The Black Soldier in Westfront 1918

It’s usually quite a positive thing when a movie affirms the existence of Black soldiers in WWI. You get wingnuts like Lawrence Fox denying there were ever Black soldiers in the trenches.

This positive feeling is complicated a bit when the film is German and the Black soldier depicted is French. And he’s killing one of the film’s most sympathetic characters.

And the director is Pabst, himself a complicated figure, since he blotted his copybook by staying in Germany to direct films under the Third Reich.

One possible interpretation of this casting choice would be “Look how barbaric the French were, they even conscripted Black men!”

I’d like to think that wasn’t Pabst’s plan, but of course we can’t know.

BUT — one welcome bit of complicatedness is added by the soldier’s dialogue — he seems to be on a personal mission of revenge. It’s the only thing he says, but it gives him a hint of motivation and backstory. There’s more to him than we’re allowed to see, but it matters that we’re told this. This single line makes him a human being.

And the film as a whole is — well, “anti-war” is a tricky concept, but it’s determined to make war look unattractive, and it doesn’t spend any energy on making you hate the opposition, unless this is meant to do that. The ending gives WOODEN CROSSES a run for its money in terms of horror. Hell, it stands comparison with COME AND SEE, even down to the frenzied direct address to the camera…

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3 Responses to “The Black Soldier in Westfront 1918”

  1. Tony Williams Says:

    I believe an African-American aviator (whose name escapes me) was part of the Lafayette-Escadrille unit and regarded as a hero with the French. When Gweneral deGaulle visited New York, in his Presidency he demanded to see this person now working as an elevator attendent to congratulate him personally. By then he had become another “forgotten man” with the added burden of racism.

  2. That could make a good movie…

  3. Tony Williams Says:

    As The Gipper said to Oliver North.

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