Adam Serwer at the American Prospect has a criticism of the new Captain America movie. No, not that putting Chris Evans’ head on some scrawny dude’s body is creepy and off-putting. No, not that Cap’s costume tries for a balance between the garish four-color version and a U.S. military uniform, and it just looks kinda dumb. No, not even that the Nazis took a backseat to Hydra. Here’s what Serwer didn’t like:
In the vein of what Ta-Nehisi Coates referred to as a “convenient suspension of disbelief” in X-Men First Class, Captain America: First Avenger dutifully ignores the civil-rights struggles of the 1940s. Well, not exactly — where X-Men simply didn’t mention the civil-rights struggles of the 1960s, Captain America: First Avenger pretends segregation didn’t exist in the 1940s.
In the comic books, Gabe Jones, one of Marvel’s “Howling Commandos,” is the first black soldier to serve in Nick Fury’s integrated unit. This rewires American history a bit seeing as though integration didn’t begin to take place until President Harry Truman’s 1948 executive order, but at least it acknowledges that it is rewriting history…
The cinematic version, which places the Howling Commandos under the authority of Captain America, gives an oblique reference to segregation through a shoutout to Jones’s attending historically black Howard University but does not otherwise refer to segregation in any way. That’s because in the film, segregation doesn’t even seem to have happened. White and black soldiers are shown serving together without incident, erasing one of the moral complexities of World War II — that American service members defeated a murderous racist dictator even as America was upholding a system of racial apartheid at home. It also erases the courage and commitment of World War II’s black veterans, who served their country bravely even as it refused to acknowledge their basic, fundamental rights.
It’s a no-win situation for Marvel, though, isn’t it? Sort of similar to what they did in the Thor movie. They made the Norse god Heimdall a black guy, and they were criticized for being politically correct and not being true to the comics or the myths they’re based on. (Never mind that there’s no particular reason a bunch of made-up sky-beings couldn’t have been racially integrated centuries before us lowly Earth folk. Just because the average 12th-Century Norwegian had never seen a black guy doesn’t mean his gods didn’t know any, right? Besides, Idris Elba is awesome. Check out Luther on Netflix. Seriously, awesome.) And now, by depicting a racially integrated military during WWII, somehow they’re disrespecting black veterans.
But if they had made Asgard and the U.S. military in the ’40s lily-white, do you really think nobody would complain about that?
These blockbuster superhero movies are trying to throw in a little something for everybody. Get as many butts in seats as possible. And if that means shoehorning in a little diversity that doesn’t quite fit the milieu, what’s the big deal? As long as the good guys beat up the bad guys and there’s lots of splosions and maybe some kissing and whatnot, who cares?
Besides, you can’t tell me there’s a better Nick Fury than Samuel L. Jackson. Sorry, David Hassellhoff.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=joZODFleOaA
You now what? I take that last part back.
P.S. Speaking of racially integrated superheroes, here’s Taiwanese Batman:
P.P.S. In the comments to that American Prospect post, “Infantry LT” writes:
Adam is completely spot on. The ignorance of this film regarding the military’s segregation is disgraceful, especially when they put such care into getting every other historical detail exactly right. I remember studying WWII in AP US History and learning all about the unprecedented medical experiments conducted on Steve Rogers; not to mention the infamous HYDRA unit, the occult army that was autonomous from the Nazi high command, armed with weapons forged from the powers of the Norse gods, and led by the literally-named Red Skull. I actually wrote my essay about if I would have had the courage while dressed in Captain America’s extremely tactical red, white and blue suit, to have crashed the Red Skull’s plane into the Arctic, which as any serious student of history knows, saved the entire eastern seaboard that day in 1944. Thank God that Colonel Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. have finally thawed out the captain so he can defend this great nation once again.