The Negro Soldier (1944)

40, 42 or 46 mins | Documentary | February 1944

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HISTORY

The film was subtitled "Project 6022; Orientation Film #51." It opens with the following written statement: "In the film you are about to see free use has been made of motion pictures with historical backgrounds. Also, a few authentic incidents have been recreated. All other film comes from official War Department films, newsreels, United Nations sources and captured enemy material." The working title of the film was The Negro Soldier in World War II . According to government documents at NARS, work began on the scenario on 15 Jun 1942, and the cost of the production was $78,254. In addition to film shot especially for the production, footage was used from American newsreels, U.S. government sources, Japanese newsreels, and a number of feature films including Mr. Smith Goes to Washington , America , Triumph of the Will , The River , Yankee Doodle Goes to Town and Flying Tigers , and the war documentaries The Battle of Midway and December 7 . In addition to original music composed for the film, the score included a number of popular tunes and spirituals including "Since Jesus Came into My Heart," "Our Boys Will Shine," "This Is the Army, Mr. Jones," "Yankee Doodle Girl," "Sleepy Lagoon" and "Holy, Holy."
       According to Capra's autobiography, the project began with Undersecretary of War Robert Patterson, whose advisor, Truman K. Gibson, showed alarming examples of discrimination against black troops in the South. According to modern sources, the Army's Information and Education Division conducted research on what kind of film could end racial confrontations as a test of social engineering. ... More Less

The film was subtitled "Project 6022; Orientation Film #51." It opens with the following written statement: "In the film you are about to see free use has been made of motion pictures with historical backgrounds. Also, a few authentic incidents have been recreated. All other film comes from official War Department films, newsreels, United Nations sources and captured enemy material." The working title of the film was The Negro Soldier in World War II . According to government documents at NARS, work began on the scenario on 15 Jun 1942, and the cost of the production was $78,254. In addition to film shot especially for the production, footage was used from American newsreels, U.S. government sources, Japanese newsreels, and a number of feature films including Mr. Smith Goes to Washington , America , Triumph of the Will , The River , Yankee Doodle Goes to Town and Flying Tigers , and the war documentaries The Battle of Midway and December 7 . In addition to original music composed for the film, the score included a number of popular tunes and spirituals including "Since Jesus Came into My Heart," "Our Boys Will Shine," "This Is the Army, Mr. Jones," "Yankee Doodle Girl," "Sleepy Lagoon" and "Holy, Holy."
       According to Capra's autobiography, the project began with Undersecretary of War Robert Patterson, whose advisor, Truman K. Gibson, showed alarming examples of discrimination against black troops in the South. According to modern sources, the Army's Information and Education Division conducted research on what kind of film could end racial confrontations as a test of social engineering. Capra asked his Research Branch to draw up a code for the depiction of blacks in their films, urging the avoidance of stereotypes and potentially divisive depictions for blacks and whites, by emphasizing the middle class. An early script for The Negro Soldier written by Marc Connelly, author of The Green Pastures , was deemed too dramatic, while a second draft by Ben Hecht and Jo Swerling was regarded as insufficiently factual. Originally the film was to be directed by William Wyler, who did research in Alabama with Moss and Connelly before his transfer to the Air Force, but direction was finally given to Stuart Heisler, who earlier directed The Biscuit Eater , which was filmed in the South and had a black child as one of its protagonists. According to Var , production of The Negro Soldier lasted over two years, requiring fourteen U.S. Army technicians and the services of black author Carleton Moss, who wrote the script, did research, technical advice, and played the pastor. Modern sources state that the Army rejected his first draft, entitled Men of Color to Arms , and Capra, according to his autobiography, ordered rewrites to take the anger out of Moss's scripts. Unable to mention segregation, Moss, in his script, showed black soldiers as comrades-in-arms while not violating the army's own segregation policy.
       According to modern sources, shooting began in Jan 1943, with Heisler, Moss, researcher Charles Dollard and a crew traveling to between nineteen and thirty Army camps, virtually every facility where black troops were trained. Modern sources also credit William Hornbeck as editor, and noted that the cast also included jazz pioneer W. C. Handy. According to modern sources, The Negro Soldier was approved for exhibition in Jan 1944 after an answer print was taken to the Pentagon by Anatole Litvak and examined by five of the top War Dept. officials, who suggested certain changes regarding racial sensibilities. These included the deletion of scenes of black officers, as well as a sequence of a black soldier in the hospital with a white nurse, the addition of shots showing World War I blacks in roles other than at the front lines, and the modification of the portrayal of combat experience of blacks in the current conflict. According to a government document dated 17 Jan 1944, Capra requested that two unrevised prints of the film be destroyed. A commercial release was undertaken at the urging of Moss and several groups to spread the film's message. The picture was approved by Elmer Davis of the OWI for exhibition in all theaters except such southern centers as Atlanta, and the War Activities Committee planned national distribution. The Army Pictorial Service did not distribute it until it opened in commercial houses. According to modern sources, The Negro Soldier made even less than the meager returns for other government war documentaries, partly because its running time required a change in the length of average programs. Although not receiving as broad a commerical run as the Why We Fight films, The Negro Soldier became popular in nontheatrical circuits. According to government documents, a two-reel shortened version of the film was released in Jul 1944. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Mirror (NY)
24 Mar 1944.
---
Daily Variety
15 Feb 1944.
---
Daily Variety
24 Apr 44
p. 7.
Daily Variety
10 May 1944.
---
Film News
Apr 44
p. 8.
Hollywood Citizen-News
15 Feb 1944.
---
Hollywood Citizen-News
14 Apr 1944.
---
Hollywood Reporter
Feb 44
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Apr 1944.
---
Hollywood Reporter
5 May 1944.
---
Hollywood Reporter
10 May 1944.
---
Hollywood Reporter
22 Jun 1944.
---
Independent Film Journal
5 Aug 1944.
---
LA Sentinel
30 Mar 1944.
---
LA Sentinel
6 Apr 1944.
---
Los Angeles Daily News
15 Feb 1944.
---
Los Angeles Daily News
7 Apr 1944.
---
Los Angeles Examiner
7 Apr 1944.
---
Nation
11 Mar 44
p. 316.
New York Post
22 Apr 1944.
---
New York Times
22 Apr 44
p. 8.
New Yorker
6 May 1944.
---
Newsweek
27 Mar 44
pp. 94, 96
People's World (San Francisco)
8 Apr 1944.
---
PM (Journal)
23 Apr 1944.
---
Saturday Review
18 Mar 44
p. 28.
Theatre Arts
1 Jun 44
pp. 346-347.
Time
27 Mar 44
pp. 94, 96
Variety
23 Feb 44
p. 10.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITERS
Aide in script preparation
FILM EDITORS
Film cutter
Asst film cutter
SET DECORATOR
Church set des by
MUSIC
Mus dir
Mus comp
Mus comp
Mus comp
Mus comp
Mus comp
Choir under the dir of
Mr. Tiomkin's staff
Mr. Tiomkin's staff
Mr. Tiomkin's staff
Mr. Tiomkin's staff
Mr. Tiomkin's staff
Mr. Tiomkin's staff
Mr. Tiomkin's staff
Orch
Mus cutter
Asst mus cutter
SOUND
Sd cutter
Chief of sd
Sd crew
Sd crew
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Spec eff
Spec eff
Spec eff
Spec eff
PRODUCTION MISC
2d asst dir
Liaison officer
Tech adv
Chief elec
ANIMATION
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
The Negro Soldier in World War II
Release Date:
February 1944
Duration(in mins):
40, 42 or 46
Length(in feet):
3,631
Length(in reels):
5
Country:
United States
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Inspired by the singing of one of his parishioners, an Army sergeant, a minister of a black church addresses his congregation about the role of black soldiers in contemporary America. To emphasize the importance of America's resistance to Nazism, the minister reads passages from Hitler's book Mein Kampf , in which Hitler decries progress for blacks and calls for the extermination of all who oppose him. Using the 1932 championship bout between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling as a metaphor for the conflict between the United States and Germany, the minister details the participation of blacks in various struggles throughout American history, including the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War, the Spanish American War and World War I. Specific heroes of those wars--Peter Salem of the Revolutionary War, Thomas Wilson of the War of 1812 and Samuel Washington of World War I--are cited by the minister, as are various black military units, such as the 371st Infantry, which distinguished itself in combat during World War I. After mentioning many prominent blacks of the past and present, including Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver, and citing the achievements of black academic institutions, such as Howard University and Tuskegee Institute, the minister recalls the 1936 Berlin Olympics in which black athletes such as Jesse Owens and Ben Johnson defeated their German opponents. As the minister reminds his congregation of the attack on Pearl Harbor and of German atrocities, a woman interrupts and starts to read from a letter written by her son Bob, a recently promoted army officer. In his letter, Bob describes his army training, from his induction to ... +


Inspired by the singing of one of his parishioners, an Army sergeant, a minister of a black church addresses his congregation about the role of black soldiers in contemporary America. To emphasize the importance of America's resistance to Nazism, the minister reads passages from Hitler's book Mein Kampf , in which Hitler decries progress for blacks and calls for the extermination of all who oppose him. Using the 1932 championship bout between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling as a metaphor for the conflict between the United States and Germany, the minister details the participation of blacks in various struggles throughout American history, including the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War, the Spanish American War and World War I. Specific heroes of those wars--Peter Salem of the Revolutionary War, Thomas Wilson of the War of 1812 and Samuel Washington of World War I--are cited by the minister, as are various black military units, such as the 371st Infantry, which distinguished itself in combat during World War I. After mentioning many prominent blacks of the past and present, including Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver, and citing the achievements of black academic institutions, such as Howard University and Tuskegee Institute, the minister recalls the 1936 Berlin Olympics in which black athletes such as Jesse Owens and Ben Johnson defeated their German opponents. As the minister reminds his congregation of the attack on Pearl Harbor and of German atrocities, a woman interrupts and starts to read from a letter written by her son Bob, a recently promoted army officer. In his letter, Bob describes his army training, from his induction to his intensive drilling and preparation for battle. The minister then describes the range of jobs for black men and women in the military, from fighter pilot, to quartermaster, to tank destroyer, to infantryman, to road builder, to anti-aircraft gunner. In a final prayer, the minister enjoins his congregation to participate in America's continuing fight for liberty and justice for all. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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