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cultural vandal | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Does ‘Captain America’ blackwash history?

Black soldiers did not fight alongside white soldiers in the U.S. Army in World War II. But you wouldn’t know that by looking at Captain America: The First Avenger. Says Charles M. Blow in The New York Times:

I watched the scenes of a fictitious integrated American Army fighting in Europe at the end of World War II, I became unsettled. Yes, I know that racial revisionism has become so common in film that it’s almost customary, so much so that moviegoers rarely balk or even blink. And even I try not to think too deeply about shallow fare. Escapism by its nature must bend away from reality.

Blow goes on to discuss the experience of the “Buffalo Soldiers,” the segregated divisions of African-American fighters, including the terrible discrimination they faced. This touches him personally, because his grandfather was one of those soldiers, and was so terribly impacted by his experience that he never spoke of it. Then:

That is why the racial history of this country is not a thing to be toyed with by Hollywood. There are too many bodies at the bottom of that swamp to skim across it with such indifference. Attention must be shown. Respect must be paid.

So as “Captain America” ended and the credits began to roll, I managed a bit of a smile, the kind that turns up on the corners with a tinge of sadness. I smiled not for what I’d seen, but for what had not been shown, knowing that I would commit it to a column so that my grandfather and the many men like him would not be lost to the sanitized vision of America’s darker years.

This isn’t personal to me, so of course, it’s easier for me to say this, but I’m not sure that depicted a fictitious integrated army in Captain America is a problem. There may not have been black soldiers fighting alongside white in World War II, but neither were there supersoldier programs, early flying cars, Nazi mini-submarines off Brooklyn, or ancient weapons of the gods misued by mad scientists. This is all entirely fantastical, and no one could possibly be mistaken otherwise. You could even argue that Captain America is taking place in an alternate universe: the 1942 New York City skyline here is certainly not the one we remember. Perhaps in this universe, the U.S. Army was integrated.

Were this a movie that pretended to historical accuracy, then of course inventing intergrated units would be a travesty. But this isn’t that kind of movie. It is an unabashed fantasy.

Does Captain America blackwash history? And if it does, it that a problem?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)



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