'Buffalo soldiers' film draws fire from member of famed cavalry unit
In spite of its title, moviegoers looking for a historical film on blacks in the U.S. military service won’t find it in Miramax’s soon-to-be released “Buffalo Soldiers.”
The movie has nothing to do with the historical cavalry units of the same name.
And that makes one former Marine angry.
“The big question for us is why in the hell are you calling the movie ‘Buffalo Soldiers’ when it has absolutely nothing to do with the Buffalo Soldiers of American history?” asked Charles F. Long II, founder of America’s Buffalo Soldiers Re-Enactors Association, based in Phoenix.
The answer: Bob Marley.
The Miramax movie “Buffalo Soldiers” was taken from a book of the same name by Robert O’Connor, who titled the book after the Bob Marley reggae song that speaks of a black man taken from Africa and brought to America, a Buffalo Soldier “fighting on arrival, fighting for survival.”
The movie, already drawing criticism, is about a Pvt. Ray Elwood, played by Joaquin Phoenix, serving in peacetime Germany at an Army base outside Stutt- gart just before the Berlin Wall comes down in 1989.
Bored and misdirected, he begins to requisition more supplies than his unit needs, and resorts to selling the surplus U.S. weaponry on the black market. The film also features actors Ed Harris, Scott Glenn and Anna Paquin, and was directed by Australian filmmaker Gregor Jordan. It will be released July 25 in New York and Los Angeles and nationwide in August.
A promo emblazoned on an announcement poster reads “Steal all that you can steal,” a play on the Army’s slogan: “Be all that you can be.”
But historically, the Buffalo Soldiers were America’s first all-black cavalry units.
In July 1866, in order to keep black soldiers in the Army following the Civil War, Congress passed legislation to establish the 9th and 10th cavalry regiments and the 24th and 25th infantry regiments, each made up entirely of black enlisted soldiers.
“It was the first real opportunity for African Americans to be part of the structure to help make America a better place — on a volunteer basis,” Long said. “This was not the first time blacks shed blood for this country, but the first time for blacks to enlist in the military.”
The U.S. military remained segregated for another 78 years, until President Truman ordered the forces integrated.
Amazon.com had this to say about O’Connor’s novel: “Set on a luxuriously appointed and hopelessly corrupt Army base in Mannheim, Germany, where the soldiers prefer real-life race riots to mock combat, Robert O’Connor’s viciously funny novel is conclusive proof that peace is hell and the U.S. Army is its ninth circle.”
No horses. No post Civil War. No black soldiers.
“Did someone not alert you that Buffalo Soldiers were part of American history?” Long, himself a former Marine who served two tours in Vietnam, rhetorically asked of Miramax. “With all the talent and creativity in Hollywood, what was it that made it necessary to title a film of this nature ‘Buffalo Soldiers?’”
The film’s title is drawing criticism from some; the timing from others.
Twice, Miramax shelved the 2001 movie, delaying its release first following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and again because of the war with Iraq.
Some have said the release of the film now, while servicemembers are dying practically daily in conflict in Iraq, is distasteful. And the Defense Department refused to work with Miramax and filmmakers and won’t facilitate showing the film to deployed troops, a Miramax publicist said.
“We’re aware of that controversy, too, but soldiers could still be stationed there for many, many months to come and we can’t wait any longer,” said Tom Piechura, speaking for Miramax.
And to the Buffalo Soldiers — the historically known ones — he added: “I apologize to them for using their name, but I don’t think they are aware of the Bob Marley song and understand the connection.”