Hollywood has long been accent confused; the mere hint of an accent is meant to suffice for any nationality on Earth. Britons generally serve as the universal go to voice for any global race, as Britons have systematically portrayed German Nazis (Valkyrie, The Eagle Has Landed), Vikings (The 13th Warrior), and most recently North Africans/Egyptians (Exodus: God and Kings). We are forced and made to believe that any accent is better than no accent at all, an absurdly pervasive premise that is shoved down our movie going throats on a regular basis. It hearkens back to the days of ingorance when Laurence Olivier and Constantin Stanislavski portrayed the Moorish character Othello, and the screen was full of white men and women masquerading as Asians and Native Americans (such as Stephen Macht as Heavy Eagle in The Mountain Men), and every other non white ethnicity on the planet. Only in the very recent modern times have ethnicities been able to…shocker…portray themselves.
A classic example of accent forgiveness is Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Costner’s 1991 take on the legendary English tale. As is commonly known, Robin Hood was the fabled English outlaw of Sherwood Forest who challenged the evil authority of the Sheriff of Nottingham, robbing from the rich and winning the hearts of the poor on his way to literary glory. It would be assumed that, portraying such a well known figure of English lore, either an Englishman would assume the role, or someone that was adequately capable of producing the necessary English-ness that would make believers out of even the most discerning viewers. Instead, we got Kevin in his most typical All-American self, with zero (and I mean zero) hint of credibility that he is the famous English longbowman who made the forest of Sherwood his bitch. We got Robin of Cincinnati, who sticks out like a sore thumb as the only one sounding like he’s from Akron, Ohio while being surrounded by a largely British cast. Even Morgan Freeman got his Moor on, while Christian Slater and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio sufficiently mustered thinly veiled European impressions. I remember seeing this film in the theater as a kid, and even then thinking “what the hell”. Behold, Robin of Montana in all his American splendor.
Wisely, they kept the original trailer dialogue free, which deftly concealed his distinct American-ness. This wordless 2 minutes of trailer quite effectively duped the public.
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.