Braided in Fire: Buffalo Soldiers and Tuscan Villagers in WWII
SPIKE LEE WILL INTRODUCE THE ROLE OF ITALIAN PARTISANS TO MANY – After seeing Miracle at St. Anna the other night, an English woman in my company asked a logical question: “What happened to the real partisan who caused the Germans to kill all those people?” She knew it was a fictionalized story, but like most future viewers of Lee’s film, she was not able to sort out the truth from invention.
Many people in the UK, the United States and elsewhere are unaware of the important and highly risky role Italian partisans played in helping the Allies liberate Italy.
In Miracle at St. Anna, Spike Lee is attempting to correct the glaring absence of black GIs in the many WWII films Hollywood has produced. It is indeed high time that we see blacks portrayed heroically in the war they fought, but, as barganews has already pointed out, it is most unfortunate that in honouring one group, Lee’s movie dishonours another.
That he would dishonour the partisans in a matter as sensitive and painful to the Italian people as the massacre of St. Anna is inexcusable.
The huge uproar in the Italian press about Spike Lee’s inaccuracy is particularly appropriate because in many countries this movie will present the role of Italian partisans to the public for the first time. (Sadly, many people outside Italy have never heard of them.) Lee and McBride defend themselves saying that what they produced is fiction. Yes, it is fine for them to show their Buffalo soldiers caught behind the Axis line — an event which did not happen. And the invented story of the soldiers’ affection for and care of a wounded Italian boy is not only touching, it rings true in the sense that there were many heartfelt contacts between the Italian population in the countryside and the black GIs. But certain atrocities do not allow changing the facts to suit a fictional story line — the very horror of the facts demand truth.
No complaint about Lee’s movie can match his untruthful partisan portrayal, but it should also be mentioned that his four main Buffalo Soldier protagonists are all black stereotypes: a sleazy preacher; a brute-sized, amicable but stupid southerner, a Puerto Rican whose place of origin appears to suffice in terms of characterization, and a lieutenant who is more comfortable following orders than giving them. (The fine actors succeed in making these characters slightly more nuanced in the movie than they are in McBride’s book.)
These four do not resemble the true Buffalo Soldiers I interviewed at length. I have long been engaged in writing a nonfiction book about what happened in the village of Sommocolonia when it was on the frontline and occupied by black Americans. The many veterans I spoke with from the 92nd Buffalo Division were invariably unique and full of human complexities. My book Braided in Fire: Buffalo Soldiers and Tuscan Villagers in WWII (just finished) will dispel any notion of stereotypes among them.
Braided in Fire covers three strands in Sommocolonia: The Buffalo Soldiers, among them Lt. John Fox, who heroically sacrificed himself in the village’s battle (in 1997 he received posthumously the US Medal of Honor); The Villagers, including two women who risked their lives to hide two wounded black GIs); and The Partisans — the book follows the true adventures of one Sommocolonian partisan revealing the actual role of these Italian patriots
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Frank Viviano’s article about the Buffalo soldiers returning to Sommocolonia during July 2000 can be read here