Period films are often challenging ordeals. Many factors come into play when transferring a fact based story to the big screen, from costumes, to historical accuracy, to the ever-present “will anyone pay to watch this” dilemma. The American Civil War stands among the pivotal moments in our nation’s history, so it stands as no surprise that there have been a plethora of flicks based on that time period made over the years, from the infamous Birth of a Nation in 1915, the legendary Gone with the Wind, and 2003’s Gods and Generals. It was 1989 when a powerful gem named Glory was released into theaters, chronicling the formation of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, an all black regiment mustered in 1863. Directed by Edward Zwick, the movie featured some serious star power in Denzel Washington, Matthew Broderick, Morgan Freeman, Andre Braugher, Cary Elwes, and a host of recognizable faces. Incorporating a triumphant score by James Horner, the film succeeds in painting a multi-layered picture of the trials and hurdles that had to be overcome by black and white troops in the Union Army following the Emancipation Proclamation passed into law by President Lincoln. The film carefully creates a vivid portrait of the main characters, with the simmering tensions of the war serving as a commanding backdrop. I remember getting misty-eyed in the theaters when I saw this film as a kid, and the message that it conveys holds true today. Definitely worth a watch.
Recognized as the first foreign samurai, Yasuke was an African slave that arrived in Japan in 1579 with Jesuit missionary Alessandro Valignano. As Valignano’s servant, he was present when Valignano visited the capital in 1581; contemporary accounts record the initial meeting with Lord Oda Nobunaga, who met the foreigner with fascination and intrigue, and was the first African that any had seen. “On the 23rd of the 2nd month [March 23, 1581], a black page (黒坊主 “kuro-bōzu”) came from the Christian countries. He looked about 26 or 27 years old; his entire body was black like that of an ox. The man was healthy and good-looking. Moreover, his strength was greater than that of 10 men.” It is said that Nobunaga had the man wipe his skin, thinking that the black may have been paint. Yasuke gained favor and entered the service of Lord Nobunaga, where he was elevated to the rank of samurai, and later fought alongside Nobunaga’s forces against the invading forces of Akechi Mitsuhide. After Nobunaga’s defeat, he was given back to the Jesuits, where he disappeared from record.
History is now – look him up!