Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Major General Ricky Bobby, Anyone?

[Hat tip to Brooks Simpson]

I trust all of you had a great Thanksgiving weekend and properly gorged yourselves on turkey, stuffing, and football as is the tradition in this great nation of ours.

I apologize for taking a hiatus from blogging, but I’ve had my hands full with several exciting – and time consuming – projects as of late.

Truth be told, I hadn’t really been following what was happening in the Civil War blogosphere for about two weeks. Imagine my surprise, then, when I learned of an 8 part mini-series that is being produced in the style of Band of Brothers entitled To Appomattox. Like many of you out there, I thought that no producer in his right mind would touch the subject of the Civil War after the disaster that was Gods & Generals.

Well, I thought wrong.

While the series is still in its infancy, the website offers some insights into the type of product that we might reasonably expect.

One of the most…um, shall we say… interesting aspects is that the producers have teamed up with NASCAR and are hoping to feature several stock car racers in the film (one is already slated to play John Gordon). Dr. Simpson has done a fine job of commenting on this odd pairing over at Civil Warriors, so I’ll refer you to his blog and leave it at that.

Not only is NASCAR associated with this film, so are several country music stars, including Dwight Yokam, Laura Bundy, and Kix Brooks of the musical atrocity known as Brooks and Dunn.

Combine the NASCAR and country music connection and it would be easy to start stereotyping – but to be fair, both Yokam and Brooks are playing Yankees (and for those of you who think Dwight Yokam can’t act, I refer you to his performance in Sling Blade).

Also, there is legitimate acting talent in the film. Paul Giamatti, Will Patton, and Bill Paxton are certainly not b-list actors (although the choice of Giamatti as James Longstreet just might baffle me till the day I die - let us pray that his beard will not resemble the deceased wildebeest that was duct taped to Tom Berenger's face in Gettysburg ).

In any case, if you review the actors and who they are portraying you will quickly notice that the cast is lily white – not a single African American cast member is listed because there are no African American characters as of yet.

And that’s deeply troubling.

When you see that Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, James Longstreet, Albert Sidney Johnston, Joseph E. Johnston, Simon Bolivar Buckner (really?), and even Sallie Pickett are major characters in the film you’d think they could find room for, oh, say Frederick Douglass? Harriet Tubman? It’s not like these are lesser known figures in the history of the conflict – I’m not asking for Christian Fleetwood or Decatur Dorsey to make it into the film for crying out loud.

But so far there is no black presence in the film at all.

If we are treated to another depiction of loyal slaves and Stonewall Jackson as the “black man’s friend” like in Gods and Generals, then I fear that this could have a ripple effect for the forthcoming Sesquicentennial commemoration.

Like the tourists who flocked to Gettysburg to find out where Buster Kilrain was wounded after the movie Gettysburg was released, we might have families seeking out the emblems of the Lost Cause just because they saw a movie that had their favorite singer in it.

Then again, the producers might land some excellent African American actors who can help balance out the story and help viewers ponder the complexities of the war. You never know.

For now, I will hope that there is no underlying agenda to this film and remain cautiously optimistic that this mini-series will strive to place accuracy over mythology. I will hope that USCTs are not only given some role in the movie, but that they are portrayed accurately – not as ignorant objects of pity, but as competent fighting men who had the same capacity for cowardice and bravery as their white counterparts.

I will hope – but I won’t hold my breath.

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