Friday, May 30, 2008

Spike Lee--Clint Eastwood

Cinema Retro led me to an interesting take on the controversy that began when Spike Lee criticised Clint Eastwood for not giving proper credit to black soldiers in his two movies about WW ll.

Here from the City Paper of Nashville:

War disputesEBy Ron Wynn | Filed Under Books, Film, Television

As the son of a black World War II veteran, I’ve been following with interest the recent media exchanges between directors Spike Lee and Clint Eastwood over the lack of black faces in Eastwood’s two WW II movies.

First, since I greatly admire both people, it’s a shame to see them at each other’s throats, especially because much of this looks like manufactured controversy and exaggerated reaction.

Second, like many other things these days, there are inaccuracies in reporting that have only stoked the fire on both sides. It’s even led to quite different takes on the same controversy via the website The Root, with contributors Keith Josef Adkins and Jimi Izrael offering their own commentaries about Eastwood, Lee, and Hollywood in general.

Contrary to what’s been endlessly stated in multiple blogs, Spike Lee did NOT randomly attack Clint Eastwood or just suddenly launch a diatribe attacking Eastwood’s films, particularly Flags of Our Fathers, for omitting black characters. He responded to a specific question a reporter asked at the press conference for his forthcoming production Miracle at St. Anna.
The question was why didn’t Clint Eastwood have any black soldiers in his films? The response was “You have to ask Clint,” followed by some other statements. But that’s hardly the same thing as Lee making a spontaneous outburst, which is what several accounts claimed.

Now anyone who’s actually seen Flag of My Fathers remembers there were two instances featuring black soldiers. One was in an early cutaway shot, the second in a photograph used during the credits. While that’s far from having principal characters, those who are hollering about historical accuracy regarding Eastwood’s film might want to check their own recollections about Flag of My Fathers.

For the rest go here http://popculture.nashvillecityblogs.com/?p=149

1 comment:

Thurman Woodfork said...

The problem is not Clint Eastwood, who has, indeed, featured black actors prominently in some of his films, to be fair. Morgan Freeman comes immediately to my mind, mainly because the character he played in ‘Unforgiven’ was a man who could have been either black or white. His race apparently was not important to director Eastwood. The problem lies with pictures like ‘Patton’, and ‘Finding Private Ryan’, and the mindset of the people who make them.

In researching ‘Patton’, the author of the book – which I have not read – or the writers who produced the screenplay must have come across mention of the 761st Tank Battalion, United States Army. The 761st was under General Patton’s command and actually spearheaded several of his drives across France and Germany. The battalion fought with great distinction, and years later, was finally awarded a Presidential Unit Citation for its bravery.

I have a photo, which I found in the National Archives. That photo is of General Patton, himself, pinning a Silver Star on the chest of one Ernest A. Jenkins, a black member of the black 761st Tank Battalion. There are many other photos there of blacks engaged in combat roles. For whatever reason, the only black person I can recall in the movie ‘Patton’ is his black houseboy.

We’re told that no blacks appear in ‘Finding Private Ryan’ because there were none present on D-Day. However, the opening scenes of the movie show barrage balloons. The 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion (VLA) (Colored) came ashore on Normandy Beach on D-Day. Again, a search of the National Archives will produce photos of those black soldiers. It will also turn up a photo of black soldiers hunting snipers in a French village during WW-II. Whether or not they might have been enlisted in the hunt for Ryan is less important than the fact that they are definitely engaged in combat.

We can talk of World War One and the Harlem Hellfighters – the 369th United States Infantry, “The Regiment That Never Lost a Man Captured, a Trench, or a Foot of Ground.” The 369th served with great distinction with the French forces because white American commanders and soldiers didn’t want them. A captured Prussian officer remarked that his troops could not hold up against the 369th. He, like many of his comrades, had begun to refer to them as the 'Black Watch' by the time the 369th had reached the Rhine.

"They are devils," he said. "They smile while they kill and they won't be taken alive." Their members were among the first Americans to receive, individually and as a unit, the Croix de Guerre. The United States reluctantly passed out a few Purple Hearts to them. Once, when ordered to retreat by a French General when they were in danger of being cut off by a German counter-attack, their white commander, Col. William Hayward, responded, “My men do not retire. They move forward, or they die.” Bet you can’t find any Hollywood ‘A’ list, feature length war movies about the 369th.

And, the famed Tuskegee Airmen – at least many Americans, white and black, have heard of them. But would a white unit with their record and the story of the obstacles they overcame to achieve that record have gone virtually unnoticed by Hollywood all these years? Not hardly.

I could go on – from the Revolutionary War through the cavalry and foot soldiers engaged in the taming of the West to the ‘Korean Conflict’ – but the story would be the same. Black soldier as members of brave and productive combat units are all but invisible in American war movies. And that seeming nonexistence is a lie. For instance, when’s the last time you saw the 9th or 10th Cavalry riding hard to rescue some beleaguered cinematic rancher or outpost ‘in the nick of time’?

T.P. Woodfork