Film maker Spike Lee lashed out in a blasting attack on Clint Eastwood because his two films about the battle for Iwo Jima, “Flags of Our Fathers” and ‘Leters from Iwo Jima” did not depict the presence of any Negro troops in the battle. “He did two films about Iwo Jima back to back and there was not one black soldier in both of those films. Many veterans, African-Americans, who survived that war are upset at Clint Eastwood. In his version of iwo Jima, Negro soldiers did not exist. Simple as that. I have a different version.”
During World War II, it was almost mandatory when making a war film to include an Itallan or a Jew or an Irishman along with a farm boy if the story depicted infantrymen engaged in combat. That was Hollywood’s effort to recognize bigotry and to combat it. It was unusual to depict a black skinned soldier in films made during the war. Is Clint Eastwood a bigot? One of the two films mentioned, “Letters from Iwo Jima,” essentially focuses on the Japanese perspective so Americans are not dominant players in the film. The other film, for the most part, deals with the story of the men who raised the famous flag and Eastwood certainly deals with bigotry toward Ira Hayes, the Native American, who, despite his heroism, encountered prejudice.
The Marine Corps during World War II was segregated. Negro troops ordinarily served in support groups like the ammunition company which landed on Iwo Jima, but they were not in front line combat roles. Due to Kamikaze attacks, anyone could get killed on Iwo Jima, but the Eastwood film basically focuses on those in the front lines, not those in support functions. Actually, it was not until late 1943 that some Negro units were allowed to serve in combat roles in the Marine Corps, but such units were not present at Iwo Jima.
Hopefully, we have gotten past the WWII formula of making certain every group is presented in a war film. There really is no need for the farm boy character or the cigar chewing Jewish boxer who speaks with a New York City accent. There probably is need for a film which depicts the initial Negro troops who fought on the islands of the Pacific, but Spike Lee is stretching it when he accuses Eastwood of being a bigot. If we used WWII criteria, American Jews should be up in arms at the absence of the Jewish character.