Troops overseas won't see 'Buffalo Soldiers' movie on bases
August 20, 2003
“Buffalo Soldiers” won’t be camping out at bases overseas.
The people who pick the movies shown on military posts, though, say it has nothing to do with the film’s acidic depiction of the peacetime Army, where a bored soldier endures the last gasps of the Cold War by swiping supplies and hawking them on the black market.
Instead, military distributors say the film’s run is just too small.
“It was released by Miramax films on July 25 on 21 screens,” said Jeanne McDonald, a spokeswoman for the Army and Air Force Exchange Service. “That won’t meet our print requirements. We need 133 to meet our requirements in Europe and [Pacific].”
Jane DeGonzaque of the Navy Motion Picture Service confirmed that “Buffalo” is also too small for the fleet. In the United States, the violent film grossed about $61,000 during the Aug. 10 weekend, and as of that week had made a mere $142,000 during its entire run.
McDonald said that a film’s depiction of Army life isn’t enough to sabotage a base debut.
“We don’t not play a movie because of content,” she said. “The ‘General’s Daughter’ was pretty controversial, but we did play it.”
In that film, CID investigators dig their way through a world of officer sadomasochism to solve the murder of a captain whose father is a politically ambitious general.
In “Buffalo Soldiers,” a Stuttgart, Germany-based soldier, played by Joaquin Phoenix, decides to turn his racketeering of Mop & Glo and other commissary and post exchange products into the more lucrative, and dangerous, enterprise of trading arms for heroin. Miramax actually delayed the release of “Buffalo Soldiers” for two years. The terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the wave of patriotism that followed made marketing a new “Catch-22” a risky campaign.
The film has drawn domestic flak on several fronts: The promotional poster bears the caption “Steal All That You Can Steal” and shows Phoenix flashing a peace sign in front of a U.S. flag, its stars replaced by dollar signs.
The title, too, has raised ire among African-Americans. Its story has nothing to do with the historic all-black units that first blazed the trails of the West following the Civil War.
Last month, Project 21, a conservative black organization, called on Miramax to change the name of the movie.
Mychal Massie, a member of Project 21’s national advisory council, told Stars and Stripes that his complaints aren’t narrowly focused on the title’s racial connotations, but on the entire story.
“It damages, tarnishes and diminishes the image of our fighting force as a whole,” Massie said. “The Buffalo Soldiers were black regiments, but they were part of the greater whole.”
Massie said he takes general umbrage to the film’s depiction of soldiers as stoned con artists.
“Where would we be without our military?” he asked. “And to cast them in a light when they’re hustlers and bigots and dolts — that’s not our military.”
Some amateur online critics of the original book by Robert O’Connor have assailed not only its bilious depiction of the military, but also its eye for detail. On Amazon.com, a reader complained that the book dubs its antiheroes as draftees, while the real Cold War military was one of volunteers. Most of the readers, though, looking past the tome’s liberties with reality considered it brilliant and biting satire.
A staffer in the Miramax press office in New York said the film may have had a small initial release in the States, but it’s had particular success on the other side of the pond.
“It’s doing pretty well in the U.K.,” he said. “I don’t know about the rest of Europe.”
He said the film’s domestic distribution would expand through September. When asked about the controversy surrounding the film, though, the staffer said he had to get off the phone.
The film is expected to be available on video sometime in November. And despite the brouhaha, “Buffalo” has found fans, particularly in Britain.
“ ‘Buffalo Soldiers’ has core values of scepticism and a thoroughly subversive attitude all round; it’s a mile away from the saccharine assumptions of most American pictures, even the most hardboiled ones,” Peter Bradshaw wrote in The Guardian. “Very refreshing.”
In America, critics have also been complimentary, but more guardedly so. The New York Times had its reservations, saying the movie “claims to uncover (and also means to celebrate) the anarchy that percolates within a rigidly ordered institution, but is itself too disorderly to make the point in a suitably interesting or infuriating manner.”