Flags of our [White] Fathers?

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?

2 comments… add one

  • Keith Demko Oct 25, 2006

    Though I didn’t mention this omission in my review, this is definitely a very valid point … What makes it even more irksome is, that as the troops were being addressed on ship right before the battle, he flashes for one frame to a small group of black faces … And after that, they are never seen or heard from again … I’m sure Eastwood would defend himself by saying they weren’t central to the story, but what he would really be saying was they weren’t central to HIS version of it

  • Kevin Levin Oct 25, 2006

    Keith, — I guess we would first need to know to what extent Eastwood was even thinking about race during production. I have no way of answering this question. In the case of the move Cold Mountain whose opening sequence included a re-creation of the battle of the Crater there were also glimpses of United States Colored Troops. Black soldiers played an important role in this battle, but you wouldn’t know it from watching these scenes. In the DVD version a separate disk containing deleted scenes includes a very disturbing sequence which shows a severely wounded black soldier shot at point blank range. The scenes deletion can probably be explained in terms of concern about race.

    I don’t know what viewers would walk away with if they were confronted with a more accurate picture of the American force on Iwo Jima. After all, this was the “greatest generation,” but it was also the generation that went home and continued for the most part to support segregation. This is not intended to diminish their bravery or what they fought for during the Second World War, but as a reflection on our broader history.

Leave a Comment