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July 30th, 2011

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01:03 am - Complexities of History and Representation
I'll be seeing the new Captain America film soon, and so I was interested to read this NYT piece that mentions how the film depicts an integration US Army and how different this was from the reality of the author's grandfather's service in the war. It is far from my place to object to the author complaining about history being erased, and yet that's only half of the issue. In an era when racism is still going strong in the US, even if it's fiction, an image of a diverse and integrated US Army fighting the Nazi – the actual and stereotypical enemies of diversity has power. It's untrue, but it's powerful none-the-less.

In any case, the larger issue is far from clear. Yes, depicting a more egalitarian history is a lie, but the fact remains that when you go more than a few decades back in history, the US (and in fact the entire developed world) becomes increasing wretched for women, people of color, GLBT people, and similar groups. As I have said many times, as someone with a degree in history, my firm conclusion was that the past largely sucked in every way we can imagine and some most of us thankfully can't.

Is it any better for audiences to see no black faces on the movie screen than to see an integrated military? My own answer is to agree with the idea of making the past look more egalitarian, in order to both give all viewers more positive images and also to avoid marginalizing people of color even more than the already area. However, I'm also not convinced that this answer is the right one, since it does erase history.

On a related note, what I'd also like to see Isaiah Bradley & Project Rebirth mentioned a future Captain America film, preferably one that had Josiah X as a hero.
Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful

(7 comments | Leave a comment)


(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
Date:July 30th, 2011 06:31 pm (UTC)
Interesting and cool. I'm a huge comics geek, but like with military SF, I have always avoided war comics and so had only vaugely heard of the Howling Commandos. Thanks for the info.
[User Picture]
Date:August 1st, 2011 07:05 pm (UTC)
I think IF the comics from that time periods also put extra emphasis on integration, IF the authors were into that depiction, that it makes sense to represent the comics in movies in that manner consistent with the goals of the comics.

I think some comic writers were as they are now, quite ideological.

Comics are fantasy, ultimately, so a misrepresentation of history in a comic is less of an issue than a misrepresentation of history in a history drama.
[User Picture]
Date:August 1st, 2011 07:09 pm (UTC)
Totally agreed.

In much the same way that Baldur can be black, and the Norse gods of the movie Thor are _not_ the religious ones.
[User Picture]
Date:August 1st, 2011 07:51 pm (UTC)
Great point. I don't think it would matter that much to me if it was a mythological piece rather than a comic and the roles were diversified. Movies are new pieces of art, different from the sources they are inspired by or based on. For a movie to be successful it may need to make changes from the source material. Of course there will always be fans of the source material that gripe, but for the movie maker, the general audiences are more important than a few sticklers. I see in no way the changing of gender, race, etc would do any dishonor to the source characters. A different race, gender, etc is not insulting.
[User Picture]
Date:August 5th, 2011 12:26 am (UTC)
As I have said many times, as someone with a degree in history, my firm conclusion was that the past largely sucked in every way we can imagine and some most of us thankfully can't.

This is something I've thought about a lot, and your very valid points nonwithstanding, I'm not entirely sure what to think about it.

I guess (from my philosophy angle) it feels like a Hobbesian "nasty, brutish, and short," perspective, and I'm wary of the trends of progressive thought that tend to assume, for instance, live miserable lives that can't possibly be meaningful because they aren't as progressive or enlightened as ours. People are very adaptable and seem to find ways to be happy.

At the same time, it's pretty unquestionable that a lot of things sucked far more than they do now, and your academic background would certainly prepare you for that conclusion much better than mine would. I'm just wary about a lot of Western theories of progress, I suppose.
[User Picture]
Date:August 11th, 2011 08:52 am (UTC)
I'm not sure I understand the objection. There were black soldiers in WWII, and by 1944 they were on the ground and could definitely have been captured in Europe even in combat capacities. There were black officers, and had been since WWI. That segregation existed, and continued to exist after WWII is a fact. That black soldiers could not be found, and would not be assigned to missions where the commanding officers deemed it necessary is not a fact. You could say the guy was a truck driver, and suddenly there is no historical problem at all. There is literally no standing order that applied to all black soldiers all the time; certainly it did not apply to officers, I doubt it would apply to attachments to special Congressionally-sanctioned teams like SSR.

In my view, the movie Captain America was well within the justification of artistic license to specify that events were exceptional, that they reflected rarities in that era that would be more palatable to modern sensibilities than the general condition. There is a danger of whitewashing the scenario, and I think Cap took an easy way out by not spelling out the contrast between the racism-dominated segreated Army and the more liberalized opinion that was also a historical reality. Still, as a fantasy, I think Captain America is entitled to take these historical unlikelihoods and choose them over more likely, but less inspiring, choices. Finally, any misgivings I might have about the whole thing was pretty much softened by Cap's obvious racist reaction to the black soldier's erudition and the Japanese guy from Fresno's presence at all. To me that said, "Racism was real, and it speaks well for the minority of the time who were able to move past the socially accepted reality and treat others fairly." Captain America, metaphorically the USA itself obviously, can be both racist AND color-blind; as a heroic character he is a quick learner.

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