The Negro Soldier (1944)

Genres - History  |   Sub-Genres - Military & War, Politics & Government  |   Release Date - Apr 10, 1944 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 41 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Bob Mastrangelo

The Negro Soldier, like most WWII-era government documentaries, remains of interest primarily for its historical value. But unlike many of its contemporaries, The Negro Soldier has dual aims: getting the black audience to support the war and getting the white audience to support the black soldier. Throughout there is a sustained effort to remind white audiences of the valuable and varied contributions of blacks to American history. And for black audiences, there is an ironical and somewhat offensive emphasis on the need to join in the fight for democracy and freedom. As to be expected, the film pushes a number of emotional buttons. It features footage of such African-American heroes as Joe Louis and Jesse Owens (including a reminder of their victories over German athletes), quotes anti-black passages from Mein Kampf to reinforce Hitler's racial hatred, and even has an entire black congregation rise in patriotic song over a montage of black soldiers marching, marching, marching. The Negro Soldier was partly made in response to criticism of continued segregation in the military. Yet the film refrains from any explicit reference to segregation, and discussions of racism in general are completely avoided. Indeed, one could almost get the impression from the film that blacks have been a full and unenslaved partner in the American experience. The Negro Soldier, as evidenced by its very title, is a product of its time. It is well made and straightforward, and pursues its agenda with a high degree of Hollywood professionalism. It is also condescending, simplistic, and sentimental. But these are criticisms that can be true of most government-produced war documentaries. The Negro Soldier, however, has the added element of taking a tragic and bloody history and acting as if it had never even happened -- and there is no excuse for that, no matter how noble the purpose.