FF17 - Glory

Intro by John Roderick

In 1989 Douglas Wilder was elected governor of Virginia, the first black governor of an American state. Colin Powell was appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, David Dinkins was elected the first black mayor of New York, Norm Rice was likewise the first black mayor of Seattle. Jesse Jackson the year before had earned 7 million votes in his contest for the Democratic nomination for president. In entertainment in 1989, Oprah was making 30 million dollars a year, serial rapist Bill Cosby donated 20 million dollars to Atlanta's Spelman College, at the time the largest donation to a historically black college and university. Spelman returned that money in 2015.

Also in 1989 De La Soul released the seminal 3 Feet High and Rising, NWA was touring straight out of Compton, and Public Enemy were in the studio recording their masterpiece Fear of a Black Planet. The Arsenio Hall Show debuted on CBS in 1989 and Spike Lee released Do the Right Thing. 1989 was a year that saw African-American participation in mainstream American culture and civic life at an all time high where the creators were increasingly dictating the terms and black identity was in the forefront.

And in 1989 alone, Morgan Freeman starred in three films that by themselves were a symposium on the black experience: Lean On Me, where he portrayed a tough inner city principal. Best Picture winner Driving Miss Daisy, where he drove Miss Daisy, and today's film Glory.

Glory tells the true story of a unit of black soldiers, the 54th Massachusetts, mustered by the Union Army during the Civil War. Denzel Washington, Andre Braugher and Morgan Freeman, among many others, are cast as eager recruits who joined the highly segregated Yankee army despite prejudice from every corner in order to bring the fight to the slaveholding confederacy. For much of the film, they are frustratingly denied that opportunity as the army assembles and stalls. The quartermasters fail even to clothe and feed them while the brass equivocates.

The soldiers grow to doubt that they will ever be allowed into the fray, but eventually the 54th is given the opportunity to show themselves in battle and they equip themselves as a formidable fighting force before embracing a valiant last stand at Fort Wagner. Glory is told through the eyes of Colonel Robert Shaw, the white commander of the regiment and critics at the time in 1989 including Roger Ebert questioned whether that narrative device was necessary. Did white audiences need Matthew Broderick as their proxy?

While Glory does not entirely escape those tropes, it unflinchingly explores the many different faces and realities of racism then and now, and both realistically portrays and celebrates heroic black soldiers and the White colonel who wound up giving everything, to try to lead them honorably. Director Edward Zwick takes us through our first look at the American Civil War. If the men will take no pay then we won't either. Today on Friendly Fire: Glory.

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