ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
Perhaps the movies most glaring omission involves the absence of any
African-American soldiers. No blacks were featured in any of the early war films from
the Forties and Fifties, and none were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor
Four Sophisticated Film Reviews
By Kam Williams
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No Brothers in Fathers
On the morning of February 19, 1945, in the wake of 74 consecutive days of pounding from the air by B-29 bombers, over 100,000 U.S. soldiers mounted an amphibious assault on Iwo Jima, a tiny Far East island about a third of the size of Manhattan. The Marines who landed there that fateful day encountered mines, booby traps, and much stronger resistance than they had bargained for because the bombardment had failed to soften-up the fortification as anticipated.
The Japanese had carved a honeycomb of concrete-reinforced caves 40-feet deep into the face of Mount Suribachi, the 550-foot extinct volcano towering over the isles southern tip. So, armed to the teeth, the enemy patiently waited underground, afforded the early advantage offered by a maze of 1500 bunkers interconnected by 16-miles of passageways.
Further complicating the invasion was the fact that when the GIs arrived, they were unable to dig foxholes, because the shore of the hostile terrain was composed of black sulfuric ash, a loose, shifting soil virtually impossible either to walk on or to dig foxholes in. As a consequence, the Allies ended up stuck like sitting ducks on the beach, suffering more than a casualty per minute for the first 60 hours.
Though America did ultimately prevail in this pivotal battle of the Pacific Theater of Operations, victory would be prematurely celebrated back home due to a Mission Accomplished photo-op which transpired on the fifth day of the fighting. Thats when AP photographer Joe Rosenthal (who just died in August of this year at the age of 94) snapped the world-renowned shot of a half-dozen soldiers hoisting Old Glory high atop Suribachi which would serve as a morale booster for a populace growing weary of the wars mounting debt and death toll.
Two days later, on February 25th, when the picture appeared in the Sunday edition of newspapers all across the country, most readers were unaware that the bloody engagement wasnt over. But it would continue for almost another month, ultimately taking a total of 6,821 Americans lives (including half the men in the famous print) as well as all but a few hundred of the 22,000 Japanese entrenched on the island.
In addition, the American public didnt know that the too good to be true Kodak moment had been a recreation, not an authentic snapshot of the historic instant when the Stars and Stripes were first raised on the summit. When asked, Rosenthal initially acknowledged that the photo had been staged and that another flag had been planted before he arrived, but he retracted the statement when that admission ignited a nasty backlash.
Nonetheless, the photo won the Pulitzer Prize and spawned a cottage industry of reproductions of the iconic tableau including everything from posters to paperweights to billboards to a commemorative postage stamp to a silver dollar to a national monument to propaganda war newsreels.
With Flags of Our Fathers, one would hope that Clint Eastwood would have some reason to make another Iwo Jima movie besides resurrecting the same sort of patriotic claptrap already dished out ad nauseam in war flicks like John Waynes Sands of Iwo Jima (1949). But regrettably, Eastwood chose neither to clarify the aforementioned photo controversy, nor to edify his audience in any other meaningful way.
Perhaps the movies most glaring omission involves the absence of any African-American soldiers. No blacks were featured in any of the early war films from the Forties and Fifties, and none were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for bravery in World War II, at least until President Clinton made an overture to correct the glaring oversight during his presidency.
So, excuse me for wondering why Eastwood would opt to perpetuate the myth of Iwo Jima as a virtually lily-white invasion in these presumably more enlightened times. Sadly, Clints not the only top director guilty as charged, since Steven Spielberg served up a similar historical distortion in Serving Private Ryan, and more recently, Oliver Stone conveniently changed the color of a Marine hero at Ground Zero from black to white to fit his vision of 9-11 for World Trade Center.
This persisting bias has serious implications for the prospects of the already beleaguered black male, for a fundamental function of film, ostensibly, is to convey a sense of a cultures social structure. And when the cinematic lens is repeatedly employed to map out microcosms of society marked by African-American marginalization, it is very likely to engender real-life attitudes rationalizing continued ostracism and exclusion.
Truth be told, about 1000 black soldiers took part in the assault on Iwo Jima, including Sergeant Thomas McPhatter, whose all-black platoon landed on the first day. McPhatter, 83, who played a critical role in the real flag-raising on Mt. Suribachi, not the re-enactment, is fed up about being ignored again by Flags of Our Fathers.
“This is the last straw, he complained. I feel like I’ve been denied, I’ve been insulted, I’ve been mistreated. Of all the movies that have been made of Iwo Jima, you never see a black face. But what can you do? We still have a strong underlying force in my country of rabid racism.”
During WWII, the Department of Defense directed embedded cameramen not to film African-American GIs in action. Remember, Americas Armed forces were segregated until 1948. So, any newsreel footage accidentally containing blacks invariably ended up on the cutting room floor. But blacks were there, and shed blood in almost every major engagement of the war.
So why the reluctance to rectify the deliberately whitewashed version of history disseminated during the shameful days of discrimination? Who knows? NYU History Professor Yvonne Latty says she even urged Eastwood before he began production to include black soldiers in the film and sent him a copy of her book about these forever unsung heroes, but to no avail.
The upshot is that Flags of Our Fathers is a 21st Century version of the state-sanctioned, pro-war propaganda designed to instill a sense of patriotism in the Baby Boom Generation back when they were impressionable babies. The violence may no longer be sanitized, but its color-coded depictions of heroism remain unchanged.
The story revolves around a Private Ryan-like mandate to bring back to the States the soldiers who had erected the flag in the suddenly-famous photograph. Why? In order to exploit the vets sudden celebrity to sell government bonds on behalf of the war effort. This tedious timewasters only tension revolves around a seemingly meaningless controversy, namely, whether one of the deceased soldiers holding the pole might have been misidentified.
With blacks invisible, Flags of Our Fathers devotes its express ethnic insensitivity in the direction of other ethnic minorities. Thus, Japanese are repeatedly referred to as Japs, while the token non-white GI, Ira Hayes (Adam Beach), a Native-American, is presented as an offensive combination of two stereotypes: The Noble Savage and The Drunken Indian.
When not speaking in silly non-sequiturs such as, Because of this war, white men will understand the Indians a lot better, Ira is portrayed as a lush who never learned how to hold his liquor. Yet, he supposedly somehow embarked by foot and by thumb on a 1300-mile journey from Oklahoma to Texas to inform a grieving mother (Judith Ivey), in person, that her late son had indeed been standing alongside him holding the pole in the famous picture, just as she suspected, as if that could in any way be a comfort for her loss.
His conscience cleansed and his duty to his great white brother honorably performed, Ira subsequently reverts to the true nature of the red man, drinking himself into a stupor till hes found frozen to death in a ditch by the side of a road.
The movies underlying message, a slight variation on an age-old theme, is that wars are still fought by brave white guys for God, mom and apple pie, and that anybody who would dare to disagree must be a cut-and-run coward.
Itll be interesting to see whether Clint tones down his ethnic animus in Letters from Iwo Jima, his upcoming companion piece purporting to present the Japanese perspective of the same battle. Whats the point of making a pair of historical epics, if both merely reflect and reinforce deep-seeded racist attitudes rather than attempt to teach tolerance, understanding and an appreciation of our cultural differences?
Fair (1 star) / Rated R for expletives, ethnic slurs, and the graphic depiction of the carnage of war) / Running time: 132 minutes / Studio: Dreamworks Pictures / http://www.flagsofourfathers.com/
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Successful, Single, & Satisfied Sisters Reflect on Their State
in Spiritually-Oriented Documentary
Everybody is well aware of the dire statistics. Black women are 5 times as likely to never marry as white women. 70% of new AIDS cases in this country are among African-American females in America, and the disease is the leading killer of black women between the ages of 25 and 34. Over 40% of black women have never been married, and the more money they make, the less likely they are to tie the knot or procreate.
All of the above might lead one to wonder how sisters are coping in the face of such insurmountable odds. Fortunately, some rather revealing answers have arrived in SoulMate a moving documentary in which some very intelligent, educated, attractive, successful and spiritual black women open up to share their heartfelt feelings about their predicament.
Directed by veteran TV-producer Andrea Wiley (The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air), the picture features testimonials from subjects so ostensibly desirable it is mind-boggling to believe it when they speak of their loneliness and how badly theyd like to share their abundance with a brother ready to settle down and start a family. But whether a businesswoman, a model, a doctor, a company president, a shrink, a sales exec, a minister, an actress, or in another walk-of-life, they all recite a similar refrain, namely, that they have long-since made peace with the distinct possibility of growing old alone.
Why is marriage so elusive for accomplished black women, the most unpartnered segment of the U.S. population? The participants cite the skyrocketing black male incarceration rate, the down-low phenomenon, and brothers dating women of other colors as all contributing factors.
One sees the problem as more deep-seeded, surmising that the institution of slavery systematically tore our families apart, and some of the process that began then, continues now And since the Sixties, our ability to partner has deteriorated considerably.
Another points to the fact that even Oprah Winfrey and Condoleezza Rice are still single as proof of how serious a situation were dealing with. Yet another interviewee, unwilling to be in the freak file in anybodys Rolodex, says resolutely that shed rather remain celibate till she finds a spot in the right mans forever file.
Candid conversations with Christ as the common denominator, Soulmate offers a fascinating, frank and ultimately optimistic exploration of a woefully unaddressed issue.
Excellent (4 stars) / Unrated Running time: 83 minutes / Studio: Clean Heart Productions / DVD Extras: Bonus footage, profile of the director, and a faith-based featurette. To order, visit: http://www.soulmatefilm.com/thetrailer
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Bush Bites the Dust in Assassination Docudrama
Most of the discussion surrounding this controversial docudrama has revolved around whether its okay to depict the assassination of a sitting president. Now, if you believe in freedom of speech, next, youve got to ask yourself how you feel about specifically seeing George Bush wasted. The answer to that question is likely to depend on which side of the aisle you align yourself with, as was the case with such politically polarizing pictures as Fahrenheit 9/11 and V for Vendatta.
As a film critic, you find yourself almost in a no-win situation whenever you choose to review a movie like Death of a President, because most of the audience is predisposed to love or hate the film, and has already formed an opinion about it before entering the theater. So, I have learned to brace myself for the hate mail, which has less to do with what was onscreen than with ideological arguments.
That being said, Death of a President is actually an intelligent and fairly compelling docudrama, which opens on October 19, 2007 with Bush about to land in Chicago where he is set to deliver a patriotic speech at a Republican fundraiser in a ballroom full of supporters. Outside, however, the cops are doing there best to keep an unruly crowd of picketers at bay, irate of an array of the administrations policies.
Afterwards, as the Secret Service escorts the President out of the hotel, he is felled by a bullet to the chest. The agents help him into his limousine and the motorcade rushes to the hospital where the mortally-wounded Bush soon expires.
In the proverbial rush to judgment, the FBI fingers a Middle Eastern man (Zahra Abi Zikri), based on shaky circumstantial evidence alone, even though there had been plenty of other suspects in the windy City that night with a motive to murder the President. Besides Arab terrorists, it could have been the work of any number of fed up and frustrated activists from the lunatic fringe.
In fact, there were so many Bush haters out there, on both the left and the right, that the authorities received thousands of tips blaming responsibility on radicals with anti-war, pro-environment, pro-choice, even white supremacist agendas. But the government conveniently opted to ignore the possibility that the assassin could have been homegrown, unraveling that mystery is the prevailing plotline in Death of a President.
With an innocent Muslim sitting on Death Row, the movie makes some very powerful statements about the Patriot Act, the erosion of our Constitutional rights, and the abuse of power, all while amply illustrating why an awful lot of red-blooded Americans feel betrayed by Dubya? Do the Feds crack the case? Yes, and the fruits of that very deliberate investigation is what ultimately makes the movie worthwhile in this critics opinion.
Though this flashback flick contains a standard disclaimer about its being a fictional account, that must be the directors idea of a tongue-in-cheek joke, because who else could Bush be playing except himself? And Dick Cheney deserves an Oscar-nomination for delivering such a heartfelt eulogy at his boss funeral after ascending to the Presidency.
Overall, Death of a President must be dubbed a technical masterpiece, as it seamlessly weaves reams of real footage in with staged events to create a not too distant future where this scenario could actually be played out. Its also a bit anti-climactic after Bush is blown away, bogging down till we arrive at the surprising and satisfactory conclusion. And, of course, its ethically debatable, since we dont want to encourage copycat killers.
Next year, beware the 19th of October.
Excellent (4 stars) / Unrated Running time: 93 minutes / Studio: Newmarket Films / http://www.deathofapresident.com/linksl
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Crucifixion Revisited with Black Jesus as Victim of Bias Crime
Was Jesus a black man? He might have been, given the features of the folks from the region of the world where he was born. He was at least more likely to look more like a brother than the generally-accepted representations of him as a fair-skinned, flaxen-haired Caucasian. Yet, Hollywood has never seen fit to make a major motion picture featuring a sepia Son of God. Till now.
Color of the Cross is the brainchild of actor/writer/director Jean-Claude LaMarre, a gifted tale-spinner who does much more here than merely revisit the life of Christ in blackface. For this controversial reinterpretation of the scriptures, which transpires during the 48 hours leading up to the Crucifixion, mixes many instantly recognizable Biblical passages with speculation about a motive for murdering Jesus which had to do with his skin color.
So, we find familiar scenes such as those taking place in the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus (LaMarre) prayed to God the Father the night before he died, and where he was later betrayed by Judas (Johann John Jean) with a kiss for 30 pieces of silver. Of course, theres The Last Supper, the last meal Christ shared with the Apostles.
Superficially, Color of the Cross reads like a Passion Play except for the fact that Jesus is black, and that he has been rejected by disbelieving rabbis who have a hard time swallowing the idea that of a dark-skinned Messiah. In fact, they routinely refer to him as the black Nazarene, so in this version of the New Testament not only do the Jews crucify Christ, but theyre portrayed as racists to boot.
Although this ethnic discrimination angle might be factually inaccurate, since if Jesus was a black Jew, his accusers mustve mostly been black Jews, too, the best thing about Color of the Cross is that it finally furnishes us with a reason for the Crucifixion. It reminded me of the Don Rickles routine in which the comedian wondered how his people could possibly have screwed up Christmas. Now we at least have a theory.
The storyline aside, Jean-Claude LaMarre charismatic performance as Jesus is what really holds the production together. He receives considerable help in this regard from his capable supporting cast which includes Debbi Morgan as the Virgin Mary, Ananda Lewis as Leah, Akiva David as John, Jacinto Taras Riddick as Peter, and John Pierre Parent as Doubting Thomas.
Is the film blasphemous? Blasphemy is in the eye of the beholder. But its certainly a lot closer in tone to The Ten Commandments (1956) and The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) than to The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) or Andy Warhols Imitation of Christ (1967).
Regardless, if Kanye West can appear on the cover of Rolling Stone sporting a crown of thorns, then were probably already primed for a religious epic featuring an ebony Prince of Peace. Let the debates begin!
Excellent (4 stars) / Rated PG-13 for graphic crucifixion images / Running time: 108 minutes / Studio: Nu-Lite Entertainment / http://www.colorofthecross.com
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Lloyd Kam Williams is an attorney and a member of the bar in NJ, NY, CT, PA, MA & US Supreme Court bars.
posted 29 October 2006
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#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane
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#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree
#15 – Homemade Loves by J. California Cooper
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#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King
#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey
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By H. W. Brands
In Greenback Planet, acclaimed historian H. W. Brands charts the dollar’s astonishing rise to become the world’s principal currency. Telling the story with the verve of a novelist, he recounts key episodes in U.S. monetary history, from the Civil War debate over fiat money (greenbacks) to the recent worldwide financial crisis. Brands explores the dollar’s changing relations to gold and silver and to other currencies and cogently explains how America’s economic might made the dollar the fundamental standard of value in world finance. He vividly describes the 1869 Black Friday attempt to corner the gold market, banker J. P. Morgan’s bailout of the U.S. treasury, the creation of the Federal Reserve, and President Franklin Roosevelt’s handling of the bank panic of 1933. Brands shows how lessons learned (and not learned) in the Great Depression have influenced subsequent U.S. monetary policy, and how the dollar’s dominance helped transform economies in countries ranging from Germany and Japan after World War II to Russia and China today. He concludes with a sobering dissection of the 2008 world financial debacle, which exposed the power–and the enormous risks–of the dollar’s worldwide reign. The Economy
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This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label ‘trafficked’ does not accurately describe migrants’ lives and that the ‘rescue industry’ serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. “Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality.”Lisa Adkins, University of London
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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update 19 December 2011