torika bolatagici

Spike Lee gives voice to black American soldiers

In Uncategorized on November 18, 2007 at 9:50 am

By Silvia Aloisi

ROME (Reuters) – Hollywood has mostly ignored the role played by black American soldiers during World War Two, but director Spike Lee is about to set the record straight.

His next film will tell the story of a group of soldiers with the racially segregated, all-black 92nd Buffalo Division which fought against Nazi occupation in Italy in 1944-45.

The film, based on James McBride’s novel “Miracle at St. Anna”, will be shot in Tuscany, where the American soldiers found themselves trapped in the mountains behind enemy lines, living with locals who had never seen a black person before.

“Very few Hollywood films deal with black soldiers,” Lee said in an interview in Rome, where he stopped to present his next work before going on location scouting in Tuscany.

“For the most part, if you look at the history of Hollywood cinema they haven’t dealt with anybody other than white Americans.

“If you think Hollywood and World War Two, you think John Wayne — the great white male that saved the world. It’s a myth,” he told Reuters.

Even “Flags of Our Fathers” and “Letters from Iwo Jima”, Clint Eastwood’s twin films about the bloody 1945 battle of Iwo Jima, failed to recognize the role of black soldiers, Lee said.

“Many black veterans who fought in Iwo Jima were hurt that there was no representation of them in both of those films.”

Racial issues are a favorite theme for Lee, the director of “Malcom X”, “Do The Right Thing”, and an acclaimed 2006 documentary on how Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans.

For him, the contribution made by black troops to America’s war effort against the Nazis was all the more remarkable given that back home they were still suffering racial discrimination.

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“We always had this paradox of African-American soldiers, negroes and black people who feel they must defend their country, they must fight for democracy and yet at the same time they are considered second-class citizens,” Lee said.

“So many soldiers who fought in whatever war you want to name, when the war was over they were still going back to being second-class citizens, not someone who has full rights.”

Lee said he had always wanted to make a film about World War Two and had been looking for an opportunity to shoot in Italy. He said the film would have a “great international cast” of U.S., Italian and German actors, but did not elaborate.

“My belief is that World War Two is the last war that America was right about. Anything after that, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Iraq — they were wrong … wrong,” he said.

McBride’s book, based on a true story, focuses on four Buffalo soldiers, and the friendship between one of them and a six-year-old Italian orphan.

The village mentioned in the book’s title, Sant’Anna di Stazzema, was the site of an infamous massacre on August 12, 1944 when Nazi troops rounded up and killed 560 civilians.

Nearly a quarter of the 15,000 Buffalo soldiers, many of whom had little education and could not read or write, were killed during the campaign in Italy.

Two of them were only awarded Medals of Honour 50 years later, said William Perry, an 82-year-old veteran of the division who was 19 when he fought in Tuscany and met Lee for the film.

“I felt better and had more freedom in Italy than back in the U.S.,” Perry said. “But I am no hero. The heroes are those who are buried in the American cemetery in Florence.”

© Reuters 2007. All rights reserved.

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