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The Negro Soldier

The Negro Soldier(1944)

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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 June 15, 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 Variety, 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 January 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 January 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 January 17, 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 July 1944.