The American film director Spike Lee has provoked a furious row in Italy with his latest film, Miracle at Sant’Anna, which centres on the role of black soldiers in liberating Italy and includes a story line about 1944 massacre in the Tuscan town of Sant’Anna di Stazzema. By depicting the Partisans, the Italian resistance which fought against the Nazis and fascists in the last two years of the Second World War, as partially to blame for one of the worst massacres of the war, he has put a large American boot into an issue which, though 60 years old, is for many Italians still a matter of acute sensitivity.
Surviving members of Italy’s Second World War resistance movement have taken issue with Spike Lee’s depiction of history in Miracle at St. Anna.
James McBride in Barga
As in previous films, Lee’s mission is to redress the racist errors of historians who – according to him – omit, distort or minimise the role of blacks in his nation’s life. He has said that his main aim in the film was “to restore the voice of black soldiers who fought in the war. Black soldiers always fought with great courage and sacrifice for democracy; they were always distinguished by their heroism and humanity, but back home they were still considered second-class citizens.”
But in correcting one historical injustice, his Italian critics maintain that he has committed another just as grave.
Lee’s version, based on the book by James McBride, shows partisan actions touching off Nazi retaliation and one partisan collaborating with the Germans as they took control of the town. Italian veterans of the resistance movement say that’s not the way it happened.
“Before shooting his film, the director should have read the truth about that horrible slaughter,” said veterans organization ANPI.
An Italian military tribunal that looked into the massacre of 560 people concluded 10 ex-Nazi officers were responsible for the murders.
“It is an erroneous version,” author Giorgio Bocca, a veteran partisan, wrote of Lee’s film in an editorial in Wednesday’s La Repubblica.
A group of former anti-Fascist fighters protested Wednesday outside an advance screening of Miracle at St. Anna held near Stazzema.
Lee said he has no quarrel with the partisans, but suggested that Italy would have to come to terms with its Fascist history.
“I would not allow anybody to tell me how to make a film, be it a partisan or the president of the United States. The visceral reactions in recent days make me think that the deep wounds that opened in Italy during the Second World War have not healed. It is up to Italians to come to grips with their past, not up to me or James McBride or the film” he said in a comment published by La Repubblica.
“The only fact that we all agree on is that 560 human beings were massacred by the Nazis,” he added. “Beyond that, anyone can have his theory and his point of view.”
Open letter to Spike Lee by Didala Ghilarducci
Dear Mr. Lee, my name is Didala Ghilarducci. I am a former partisan. My husband, Chittò, was killed by the Nazis in the Versiliese mountains a few weeks after the massacre of Sant’Anna di Stazzema, in that terrible August of ’44.
I resolved to write to you because of what I read in the newspapers about the film you are shooting. It makes me feel my heart heavy as a boulder. It seems that your movie might reinforce the false argument that the massacre was accomplished because of partisan research in the village. It is an untrue argument that critics of the Resistance have always claimed to blame partisans for the massacre. Maybe you do not care of rumours about the content of the scenes taken in Sant’Anna, but they generated a painful anxiety in the men and women of the Italian Resistance. … read the rest of Didala Ghilarducci’s letter to Spike Lee here
Click on the link below to hear an interview by Paolo Marrone recorded in Barga last year with James McBride (in English)