Forgotten Four: The Integration of Pro Football, an EPIX Original Documentary, will make its World Premiere on Tuesday, September 23, 2014, at 8PM ET. The 60-minute documentary, narrated by Jeffrey Wright tells the little-known story of four outstanding and brave African American men – Kenny Washington, Woody Strode, Marion Motley and Bill Willis – who broke the color barrier in pro football in 1946, one year before Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey were credited with integrating Major League Baseball. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Keefer B. comments, “This proves the impact that these four football players had on history and I thank this film for bringing this information to an audience.” See his full review below.
Forgotten Four: The Integration of Pro Football
Reviewed by Keefer C. Blakeslee
Unforgettable! This documentary literally tackles the history of the first four African-American pro football players during the time of segregation.
Most people know that Jackie Robinson was the first African-American baseball player on an all white team. However you may not know that Kenny Washington, Marion Motley, Bill Willis and Woody Strode were the first African-American football players on major teams. Branch Rickey, who signed Jackie to the Dodgers, was part owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers football team and once told Marion Motley, ”Had I not had the experience of seeing you and Bill Willis play in a contact sport, without incidence, I might not have had the courage to bring Jackie Robinson up into the majors.” This proves the impact that these four football players had on history and I thank this film for bringing this information to an audience.
The film expresses the passion and philosophy of playing football in an honorable matter. I’m not much of a football fan or sports fanatic in general, but this film swayed me into believing how important football is to sports enthusiasts. The film teaches audiences that football is not just men running back and forth tackling each other, it is a way of life for the people who are good at it.
There were hard times for people like Kenny Washington and the film does not hide this. It provides pictures of African Americans being hanged or even burned and footage of African slaves working in plantations. After slavery ended, the world turned into a segregated society. Coloreds and whites were separated from each other. They couldn’t even use the same drinking fountain. You’re thinking to yourself, “I already know this,”. Most of you do, but I give regards to the film for reminding us of that. If they didn’t begin the film this way, the story of Kenny Washington or Bill Willis wouldn’t be as remarkable. When Marion Motley and the rest of the African players stepped onto the field, they are not only representing themselves, but their whole race. Just imagine the weight of that responsibility.
This film not only recognizes the players, but Paul Brown, coach for the Cleveland Browns – the man who brought them together in the first place. I admire this man not just for his determination and teaching skills but, for his desire to win with the best players no matter the color of their skin. That belief, during that time, was unthinkable and courageous. That is why he is my favorite person in this film.
My favorite part is when Jim Hardy, one of the white players for the Los Angeles Rams, talks about the abuse Kenny Washington took from his own team mates. While playing a game one of the players “knocked down Kenny flatter than a mackerel.” After the game, Jim placed his arm on Kenny’s shoulder and said, ”We got beat today but, I’ve never seen anybody play as good a football game as you played today.” Kenny responds, his eye watering, ”Jim, it’s hell to be black” Hearing Kenny’s emotional words made me melancholy.
The moral of this documentary echoes words from the Declaration of Independence, ”All men are created equal.” These four pioneers were all great at what they did and because of the color of their skin they were rejected. This tarnished everything our country stands for.
If you’re amazing at what you do, you should do it, despite what you look like.
I give this film 5 out of 5 stars. And, I recommend it to 12 through 18-year-olds. There are images and language that might not be appropriate for younger audiences. Although I do believe that kids need to watch this film and learn about the four men who opened the door to a brighter world.