We’ve come a long way since the stupefied looks on people’s faces as they walked out of the movie theater back in 1989 asking: "Did black people really fight in the Civil War?" Now we look to see if movies are racially inclusive. Looks like Clint Eastwood’s new movie about the battle of Iwo Jima is receiving some flack for failing to include black actors that reflect their presence during the battle.
Nearly a thousand African-Americans took part in the battle and hundreds more played vital support roles. Yet in the sprawling two-hour plus film, no black combatant is seen. This continues the insulting and infuriating pattern in books, films, and TV movies in which the monumental contributions that black men and women made to the fighting in the Pacific and Europe have downplayed, ignored, or deliberately whitewashed.
The invisibility of black soldiers in Flags of Our Fathers, and indeed, the legions of other bio-pic movies on World War II is no surprise to the many black vets that know the true story of the war. They have taken every opportunity they’ve gotten to protest the sanitizing.
Are critics being too sensitive? I think not. My students are still shocked to learn that black men fought with George Washington during the Revolution and that significant numbers fought in the Civil War and World War I. Why exactly are they surprised?