Dealing with problems of race ambiguously at best, not dealing with them at all at worst, right? Wrong. I’m used to Disney ignoring racial issues. Even being marginally racist at times (going back in history there’s all kinds of animalization of black peoples–the baboons in The Jungle Book, the crows in Dumbo, etc., and don’t even get me started on everything that’s wrong with Aladdin). So evidently, in an effort to combat these issues in the company’s past, or maybe just riding along on this recent American wave of post-racialism/colorblindness, Disney has now chosen to IGNORE AMERICAN HISTORY COMPLETELY and mark the struggles of African-American soldiers (like my paternal grandfather, a decorated WWII veteran) entirely irrelevant. Great choice.
What am I talking about, you ask? I had the night off from work tonight, so I decided to go see Captain America with K and a couple other friends. [No major spoilers coming up, I pinkie promise.] We trudge along through America’s involvement in WWII, from the volunteer army to the Uncle Sam posters and the war bonds…then suddenly we’re in Italy facing the 50 or so members of the 107th infantry who didn’t get captured by the evil Germans…and there are Black and Asian faces intermingled with the White guys. Huh? Hold up. Wait just one goddamn minute. No they didn’t…
Dear Disney, the United States Armed Forces were not integrated until President Linden Johnson’s Executive Order in 1948. During the second World War, African-American soldiers were segregated into their own troops, who were rarely sent to battle, and if so sent into zones considered too dangerous for their white counterparts. They were grunt workers, easily disposable. Their officers were not widely respected, their men treated with more respect by civilians abroad than by their own countrymen. Do I need to bring up the Tuskegee Airmen? (Don’t even get me started on Tuskegee in general!) I don’t care how many billions of dollars your company is worth; I don’t give a shit how much easier it is to cast your movie without regard to race; if you thought it didn’t matter, it does. I will not stand by and let the honor of my grandfather and the thousands of African-American men like him who had to fight for the right to fight for their country, and came home to find no honor, no love, no respect, and certainly no veteran’s benefits like the GI bill (which could have singlehandedly erased the Black-White wealth gap, had Black veterans been given the
opportunity right to go to college or purchase homes as were their White counterparts) be trampled upon. In the same way I cannot tolerate history textbooks that relegate Blacks’, womens’, or LGBT-persons’ histories to colorful boxes and side notes, if they mention them at all, I cannot and will not tolerate you erasing the struggles these men endured. I cannot and will not sit idly by while you piss all over their legacy.
Aren’t there people whose job it is to make sure you don’t do anything blatantly ignorant like this? Shouldn’t someone be checking these things when you’re casting? Doesn’t anyone care? Minor historical inaccuracies like the details of a uniform or the use of a car that didn’t exist yet don’t bother me; I realize that it’s not actually possible to travel back into time and get everything perfect. But we’re not talking about something minor like that. We are talking about the struggle for basic human dignity endured by my father’s father, Black peoples of his generation, of previous generations, and to an extent even of today’s generation. We are talking about civil rights. We are talking about the way the media likes to subtly cover up the sordid details of our nation’s past and pretend everything is all hunky-dory.
Captain America can’t be shown as fighting for an America that actively denied its citizens the very “inalienable truths” it was founded on, huh? That’s not gonna sell tickets. Disney, I love you, but this is not okay.