By Greg Carlson
Baseball Hall of Fame slugger and living legend Reggie Jackson is the subject of Alexandria Stapleton’s eponymous feature documentary, now streaming on Amazon’s Prime Video. No stranger to interviewing outsize personalities with egos to match – the director’s feature debut was the Roger Corman biography “Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel” – Stapleton fashions a sturdy evaluation of Jackson’s career and legacy, with the superstar front and center in a series of contemporary and candid on-camera interviews supported by a wealth of archival footage. “Reggie” is nowhere near the final word on one of the game’s most dynamic heroes, but fans and newbies alike should find plenty to ponder.
Stapleton tracks the ascendancy of Jackson through a straightforward and chronological structuring of milestones and life events. Viewers are confronted with the racist reality faced by athletes on and off the field as Jackson recounts early playing days and reflects on a MLB career that spanned two decades, from 1967 to 1987. Several sports legends, including Hank Aaron (who died not long after filming) and Julius Erving join Jackson on camera to discuss a variety of topics, including the lack of Black and minority representation in front offices. Stapleton expertly handles the film’s shifts in tone, which frequently circle back to Jackson’s reliable outspokenness on racial inequalities.
Despite Jackson’s close identification with the New York Yankees, Stapleton takes her time before addressing those chapters of Reggie’s career. Jackson’s tenure in Oakland presents the filmmaker with an opportunity to consider the civil rights-era politics of the Black Panthers and to remind many that Jackson was an established star in yellow and green – contributing to five consecutive AL West divisional titles, three pennants in a row, and World Series victories in 1972, 1973, and 1974 – before he entered free agency. Once he started dressing in pinstripes for the start of the 1977 season, Jackson would write the most memorable chapters of his playing career, no small feat given what he had already accomplished.
Stapleton understands how to articulate the extraordinary pressures that faced Jackson once he joined the Yankees, succinctly summarizing the prickly relationship between Reggie and manager Billy Martin (who famously pulled Jackson after the player didn’t show enough hustle in a nationally-televised game against the Red Sox on June 18, 1977). The director also circles key moments in Jackson’s saga with popular catcher and captain Thurman Munson, who famously tagged Jackson as “Mr. October” without realizing what kind of impact and longevity the nickname would have.
“Reggie” briefly addresses Jackson’s parallel career as a commercial endorser of everything from the candy bars bearing his name (full disclosure: I ate a lot of them) to Panasonic video cameras and recorders. Jackson points out that at the time, he made more money as a spokesperson than he did for playing baseball. Volkswagen, Puma, Kellogg’s Frosted Mini-Wheats, and a junior batting trainer system are among the advertisements showcased in a nostalgic sequence attesting to some serious star appeal. For any number of possible reasons, Stapleton steers clear of Jackson’s off-field personal life, although daughter Kimberly appears briefly toward the end of the movie.
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