The Black Kino Fist: Black life as depicted in film history

Glory (1989)

"The story goes that the author of "Glory," Kevin Jarre, was walking across Boston Common one day when he noticed something about a Civil War memorial that he had never noticed before. Some of the soldiers in it were black. Although the American Civil War is often referred to as the war to free the slaves, it had never occurred to Jarre - or, apparently, to very many others - that blacks themselves fought in the war. The inspiration for "Glory" came to Jarre as he stood looking at the monument.
It tells the story of the 54th Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, made up of black soldiers - some Northern freemen, some escaped slaves - and led by whites, including Robert Gould Shaw, the son of Boston abolitionists. Although it was widely believed at the time that blacks would not make good soldiers and would not submit to discipline under fire, the 54th figured in one of the bloodiest actions of the war, an uphill attack across muddy terrain against a Confederate fort in Charleston, S.C. The attack was almost suicidal, particularly given the battlefield strategies of the day, which involved disciplining troops to keep on marching into withering fire. The 54th suffered a bloodbath. But its members remained disciplined soldiers to the end, and their performance on that day - July 18, 1863 - encouraged the North to recruit other blacks to its ranks, 180,000 in all, and may have been decisive in turning the tide of the war.
"Glory" tells the story of the 54th Regiment largely through the eyes of Shaw (Matthew Broderick), who in an early scene in the film is seen horrified and disoriented by the violence of the battlefield.
Watching "Glory," I had one recurring problem. I didn't understand why it had to be told so often from the point of view of the 54th's white commanding officer. Why did we see the black troops through his eyes - instead of seeing him through theirs? To put it another way, why does the top billing in this movie go to a white actor? I ask, not to be perverse, but because I consider this primarily a story about a black experience and do not know why it has to be seen largely through white eyes. Perhaps one answer is that the significance of the 54th was the way in which it changed white perceptions of black soldiers (changed them slowly enough, to be sure, that the Vietnam War was the first in American history in which troops were not largely segregated). "Glory" is a strong and valuable film no matter whose eyes it is seen through. But there is still, I suspect, another and quite different film to be made from this same material."
- Roger Ebert 
Status: Available for purchase
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