Monday, January 16, 2006

Cinderella Man

Americans celebrate today the memory of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King, a man who abhorred the race riots of the 60s and preached non-violence as the only path to racial justice. In his “I Have a Dream” speech of 1963, Dr. King said:

There is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline.”

King was a man of peaceful progress. Then why do I choose today to discuss a movie about a Depression era boxer who made his living in a violent sport they call the “sweet science”? Perhaps these words from Dr. King will provide a connection:

I submit to you that if a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn't fit to live.”

Cinderella Man is a movie about James J. Braddock, called the Bulldog of Bergen, the Hope of the Irish, and a man’s man. Russell Crowe portrays this real-life figure from the Depression era. Braddock the boxer is a Terrier, never giving up against younger, much better boxers. Braddock the family man is a Golden Retriever in his loyalty, gentleness, and nobility of spirit.

The storyline is pure Hollywood; rather, it is Hollywood as it once was and now too rarely is. The promising boxer loses his biggest fight, is devastated by the Great Depression, gets another chance and, fighting to save his family from poverty, beats the murderous Max Baer to win the championship. The fight scenes are marvelous but the story is about the man, not the fighter.

Things got so tough for Jim and Mae (Renee Zellwegger) that they have no money for groceries, gas and electric and the children are getting sick. After a tear jerking quarrel, Mae sends the kids to live with relatives. Full of regret and shame, Jim goes down to the relief office and signs up for the dole so he can bring them home. Given the chance to fight again, he wins a few bouts and returns to the office to repay the debt. When a reporter asks him about this, he shrugs it off.

This is a great country, a country that helps a man when he's in trouble. I thought I should return it.

It seems that kind of nobility in the face of hardship is something Dr. King would admire.

In a 1967 speech King asked Where do we go from here? He noted that “we must first honestly recognize where we are now. Of the good things in life, the Negro has approximately one half those of whites. Of the bad things of life, he has twice those of whites. Thus half of all Negroes live in substandard housing. And Negroes have half the income of whites. There are twice as many unemployed.”

So it is appropriate to take stock of the current situation. Census figures show that on some measures such as annual income, blacks have closed the gap considerably with whites over the past few decades. In a nationwide survey three-quarters of Americans say there has been significant progress on achieving King's dream and two-thirds of blacks felt the same.

Of the problems that remain, the worst have less to do with opportunity and more with moral values. Nearly 70% of black babies are born to unwed mothers. Too many black men have opted out of the family and the consequences are poverty and crime.

Liberals would have you believe that the solution involves more abortions, more welfare and more tolerance of antisocial behavior. But that remedy has not worked for fifty years. Trying the same thing again and again and expecting a different outcome is the definition of insanity.

The men have to be men again, like the Cinderella Man. He is a man who works brutally hard to support his wife and kids, who teaches his kids to be honest, and adores his wife. As Mae says to Jim before the big fight, You're the Bulldog of Bergen, the Pride of New Jersey, you're everybody's hope, you're your kids' hero, and the champion of my heart.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are so right. Bill O'Reilly on Fox News discussed this very thing tonight with two black leaders, no one in the black community wants to address this issue, 70% is a very large percentage and many votes, it is not a popular subject.


10:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post!
Also, "Cinderella Man" is indeed a wonderful movie!

9:38 AM  

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