Michelle Obama Screens Jackie Robinson Biopic '42' With Harrison Ford

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The actor, his co-star Chadwick Boseman and the late baseball great's 90-year-old widow attend a student workshop and two showings of the Warner Brothers film at the White House.

First Lady Michelle Obama welcomed 80 high school and college students to the White House for a screening of Legendary Pictures' Jackie Robinson biopic 42, followed by a question-and-answer session with stars Harrison Ford and Chadwick Boseman as well as director-screenwriter Brian Helgeland and the late baseball all-star’s 90-year-old widow, Rachel Robinson.

The event on Tuesday was a publicity coup for Legendary, which fully financed and produced the film, which Warner Bros. opens April 12. Legendary CEO Thomas Tull, remarking that 42 is the most important film the company has made, and Legendary president Jon Jashni were also on hand at the White house.

The First Lady told the students, who included a group from Los Angeles’ Amino Jackie Robinson Charter School, that she and President Obama had watched the film alone last weekend while their daughters were away on spring break and that they had been deeply, even “physically” moved by the story of the man who broke major league baseball’s color line.

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“It wasn’t simply the wonderful performances, because the performances were brilliant — brilliant,” she said, adding that "many in this country still face clear challenges, they still exist today. I was struck by how far removed that way of life seems today. I mean, there’s work to be done, but things have changed. ... That sort of prejudice is simply just not something that can happen in the light of day today.”

Michelle Obama went on to praise Rachel Robinson for her continued work with the Jackie Robinson Foundation, which provides scholarships to minority students in need, many of them now attending Ivy League schools, including Princeton, her own alma mater. Rachel Robinson, she said, “paved the way for me.”

She told the students that she wanted them “to think about how much strength it took day in and day out for Rachel and Jackie Robinson and for thousands of other people just like them all across this country to keep pressing ahead, even though some folks wouldn’t even treat them like they were human beings. ... It would have been easy for them to get mad, because I know I was mad just watching the movie. It would have been easy for them to get mad or to give up. But instead, they made hate -- they met hatred with decency. I want you all to keep that in mind -- they met hatred with decency. And, more important, they gave their absolute very best every single day -- do you hear -- they gave their best every single day.”

Alluding to an evening screening of the film for invited guests of the first couple, Michelle Obama said to the young audience: “Now, we’re going to have a (another) screening for a bunch of fancy people somewhere later on down the line, but we wanted to be here with you. Because this isn’t just about watching a wonderful movie about an important moment in history, this is about helping all of you believe that you can write your own history. That's what Jackie and Rachel Robinson did, and the same could be said for all the folks on this stage."

The first lady told the students that before Ford became an actor he "had to overcome a crippling fear of speaking in front of an audience." She joked: "So he’s terrified right now."

Chadwick, she added, had to work 10 years before landing his first starring role. "This stuff doesn't come easy," Michelle Obama said. "And then Brian sits down to create a script, and that means hundreds of hours of writing and rewriting, painful doubting and rewriting -- oh, you can see the pain -- before he comes up with a finished product. And that's really the secret. ...The secret is that no one comes out a finished product.”

Pamela McClintock contributed to this report.