Criticwire survey question 27 May 2013

What movie should people watch today in honor of Memorial Day?

Memorial Day began after the American Civil War and was originally meant to honor the Union and Confederate soldiers who had died during their military service. For that reason, I feel people should watch the 1989 American drama “Glory.” Directed by Edward Zwick, the movie starred Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington, Cary Elwes and Morgan Freeman. The movie was based on the personal letters of Robert Gould Shaw, Lincoln Kirstein’s novel “Lay This Laurel” and Peter Burchard’s historical book “One Gallant Rush.”

The movie is a fictional account of the formation of the 54th Massachusette Volunteer Infantry, one of the first formal African American units, and its gallant and suicidal rush. The 54th is led by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw (Broderick), who came from prominent abolitionist family. Although the movie is about a black experience seen through white eyes, we are able to see the innocent and doubt of Shaw transforms as he comes to know the men better. Washington won a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award.

Soon after the movie came out, I read Burchard’s book and I visited the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial that is on Beacon and Park streets (since 1897) in Boston.  I would later think about Shaw and the 54th as Los Angeles uneasily resettled into a community divided by race and economics after the 1992 Los Angeles Riots. During the Los Angeles Riots, an African American man named Gregory Alan-Williams (currently a recurring character on the TV series “Necessary Roughness”) saved a Japanese American man (Takao Hirata) from being beaten to death. Like Lei and Pierre Yuille, Titus Murphy, Terri Barnett, and Bobby Green Jr. who saved Reginald Oliver Denny, Alan Williams stepped forward and endangered his own live in order to save a complete stranger, crossing the racial divide. Alan Williams told reporters: “I said to myself, ‘If I don’t help this man, when the mob comes for me. there will be nobody there for me.’ If I stood there and watched this man be murdered, then what sort of justice could I ask for myself?”

By crossing the lines of economic class, race and even religion, these people gave us the road signs toward peace. The movie “Glory” reminds us that this country was once divided over the issue of slavery and how too often wars both large and small were fought because of prejudice. How many wars could have been prevented and how many men and women would have lived long and productive lives if people weren’t so easily seduced into thinking they are superior to the imaginary other instead of realizing that the human race is a collective we. We stand on the same side of the fence as we head toward an uncertain future and we all want and deserve justice in our lives on this earth.

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