Thursday, May 22, 2008

Were there any Black soldiers in World War II? Not according to Clint Eastwood and that portion of Hollywood that he represents.

Black movie director, Spike Lee is slamming Clint Eastwood over his two recent Iwo Jima movies, saying the filmmaker overlooked the role of Black soldiers during World War II.

Spike Lee has made a new film. Due to be released this fall, is is entitled “Miracle at St. Anna,” the story of an all-Black U.S. division fighting in Italy during the World War II.

Spike Lee said Eastwood’s 2006 movies “Flags of Our Fathers” and “Letters From Iwo Jima” were whites-only affairs.

“He did two films about Iwo Jima back to back and there was not one Black soldier in both of those films,” Spike Lee said 20 May at the French Cannes Film Festival, where he was a judge in an online short-film competition.

“Many veterans, African-Americans, who survived that war are upset at Clint Eastwood. In his vision of Iwo Jima, Negro soldiers did not exist. Simple as that. I have a different version,” Spike Lee said.

Eastwood was in Cannes for his missing-child drama “Changeling,”. At a news conference for the film, a reporter tried to ask for Eastwood reaction to Spike Lee’s criticism, but the moderator cut her off and told journalists to limit questions to Eastwood’s own movie.

Due in U.S. theaters in October, “Miracle at St. Anna” centers on four Americans — played by Derek Luke, Michael Ealy, Laz Alonso and Omar Benson Miller — in the Buffalo Soldiers division in Tuscany, Italy.

Sixty-three years after U.S. forces vanquished the Japanese and planted their flag on Iwo Jima's Mount Suribachi, the remote outpost in the Volcano Islands is the focus of another pitched battle. Clint Eastwood and Spike Lee are engaging in verbal warfare over the verisimilitude of Eastwood's two films about the epic clash, Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima. Lee has claimed that by soft-pedaling African-American contributions to the battle, Eastwood is misrepresenting history.

Eastwood's counter: "Has he ever studied history? [African-American soldiers] didn't raise the flag," he said. "If I go ahead and put an African-American actor in there, they'd say, "This guy's lost his mind.'" Eastwood also told Lee to "shut his face," prompting Lee to amplify the racism charge: "[Eastwood] is not my father and we're not on a plantation, either," he fumed. "I'm not making this up. I know history."

"If he wishes, I could assemble African-American men who fought at Iwo Jima and I'd like him to tell these guys that what they did was insignificant and they did not exist," Lee continued. "I'm not making this up. I know history. I'm a student of history. And I know the history of Hollywood and its omission of the one million African-American men and women who contributed to World War II

History, as it turns out, is on both their sides. Lee is correct that African-Americans played an instrumental role in World War II, in which more than 1 million black servicemen helped defeat the Axis Powers. Those efforts include significant contributions to the fight for Iwo Jima. An estimated 700 to 900 African-American soldiers participated in the epic island battle, many of whom were Marines trained in segregated boot camps at Montford Point, within Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

Those soldiers were restricted from front-line combat duty, but they played integral noncombat roles. Under enemy fire, they piloted amphibious truck units during perilous shore landings, unloaded and shuttled ammunition to the front lines, helped bury the dead, and weathered Japanese onslaughts on their positions even after the island had been declared secure. According to Christopher Moore, the author of a book about African-Americans' myriad contributions during World War II, "thousands" more helped fashion the airstrips from which U.S. B-29 aircrafts could launch and return from air assaults on Tokyo, about 760 miles northwest. Hosting that air base, Moore says, was Iwo Jima's primary strategic importance.

Eastwood's portrayal of the specific battle is, if narrow, also essentially accurate. Flags Of Our Fathers zeroes in on the soldiers who hoisted the U.S. flag atop Mount Suribachi, and nobody disputes that this task, memorialized in a famous staged photograph, was accomplished by white servicemen. (His other entry in the Iwo Jima category, Letters from Iwo Jima, is told largely from the perspective of Japanese soldiers.)

Eastwood is also correct that Black soldiers represented a small fraction of the total force deployed on the island. That argument doesn't placate Yvonne Latty, a New York University professor and author of a book about African-American veterans. Black soldiers "had the most dangerous job," she says. "If you were going to show the soldiers' landing, you'd need to show [African-Americans] on the beach." In Flags of Our Fathers, which shows the landing in significant detail, African-Americans appear only in fleeting cutaway shots and in a photograph during the film's closing credits.

Moore lauds Eastwood's rendering of the battle, but laments the limited role accorded to African-Americans. "Without Black labor," he says, "we would've seen a much different ending to the war."



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