Tuesday, October 24, 2006

'Our' Fathers, Not 'Their' Fathers

As I mentioned last week, the unrecognised contribution of French colonial soldiers to the liberation of the motherland has been acknowledged in the film Indigènes. Clint Eastwood's much-trumpeted Iwo Jima drama Flag of our Fathers has however omitted any mention of the 900 or so black soldiers that fought for the liberation of the island. Warner Brothers claim that the film is 'correct based on the book [by James Bradley]' which is surely the most laughable defence imaginable. Nobody can claim that Eastwood is racist, given his regular championing of African-American culture and the strongly anti-racist strain of many of his films, but it is an egregious omission, one that may have been forced by suits anxious at going for the 'right demographic'.

It has always been interesting that African-American soldiers have been better represented in European films about the Second World War, though this is less due to a more enlightened worldview than the fact that they were simply more visible to Europeans in those days. Thus black American servicemen appear in Rossellini's Paisà and Fassbinder's The Marriage of Maria Braun. And then there are the cases of Korea and Japan; in Kwangmo Lee's Spring in my Hometown, there are black American soldiers featured during the Korean war, while Kim Ki-Duk's Address Unknown, treats of the racism that the mixed-blood children of Korean women and African-American soldiers have faced in Korea. In Kenzaburo Oë's novella The Catch, a pair of Japanese children are fascinated by the black American soldier held captive in their village after their country's capitulation. It is true that American soldiers were racially-segregated until the Korean war but that did not stop The Dirty Dozen from portraying them, and tackling the issue of racism too. I know of few other American movies about the Second World War that have done the same.