A biopic of Pittsburgh Pirates legend Roberto Clemente, the first Latino inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, is in development at Legendary Pictures – the same company that backed 2013’s Jackie Robinson biopic, “42,” which starred Chadwick Boseman as the man who broke the baseball color line, when the Brooklyn Dodgers started him at first base on April 15, 1947, becoming the first African American to play in the major leagues in the modern era.
The film will be based on David Maraniss’ book “Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball’s Last Hero,” and is being made with the cooperation of Clemente’s family.
Ben Silverman and Jay Weisleder are producing via their Fuego Films banner along with Legendary.
Aside from books written on his life, it’s surprising that there hasn’t been a definitive screen work on Clemente. There was a PBS American experience documentary, as well as “The Clemente Effect,” which premiered on the ESPN network 2 years ago, directed by Mario Diaz – a passionate recounting of the Puerto Rican and American baseball legend. The documentary told the important story of a humble and noble athlete, who, aside from being revered for leading the Pittsburgh Pirates World Series’ win in 1960, as well as becoming MVP in 1966, emphasizes Clemente’s life as a humanitarian and proud advocate of the rights of minority players.
Although I was never a baseball fan per se, growing up in Puerto Rico, I was aware of Roberto Clemente’s legacy, which went far beyond his athletic abilities. I must have been about 6 years old (or younger) when I first saw his memorabilia in relatives’ homes, which peaked my curiosity and prompted questions. Relatives would say things like, “He was our hero; he was the best Puerto Rican player in the major leagues who loved his country.” The last part was what always stuck with me. He was on his way to deliver food and supplies to Nicaragua after an earthquake, but the plane was too full, and it crashed in the sea a mile away from where it was to land. They never found him.
At such an early age, I wondered how and why someone so famous and revered, and rich, could also be so selfless, and wanted to help earthquake victims in another country. The answer from my older relatives was always “that’s just the kind of person he was; concerned with the welfare of others.
One of the most interesting aspects of his life was his assimilation – or lack thereof – to American culture. Although Puerto Rico isn’t a racial utopia necessarily, Clemente’s naiveté upon facing racism during the Civil Rights era when he played, were trying and unfathomably challenging. Puerto Ricans pride themselves as one culture, regardless of race. There are definitely the effects of colonialism on the island, which surface more as “colorism.” Racism is deemed publicly shameful; there’s an African legacy on the island that permeates in Puerto Rican culture as a whole, through centuries of lawful miscegenation, similar to other Caribbean countries, unlike the U.S.
And not only was Clemente black, but he also faced a language barrier. There weren’t many Latino players in the league.
Despite all the challenges, which gave Clemente even more determination to succeed on the field, he managed to excel, while remaining genuine about his roots and outspoken on human rights.
It’s an important story. It’s seldom that I’m truly inspired by an athlete, beyond the fame that comes from their prowess on the playing field.
The news of the Legendary Pictures biopic was first announced by The Hollywood Reporter.