Why "Buffalo Soldiers"?
by B.B. Robinson, Ph.D.
A New Visions Commentary
paper published August 2003 by The National Center for Public
Policy Research, 501 Capitol Ct., N.E., Washington, DC 20002,
202/543-4110, Fax 202-543-5975, E-Mail Project21@nationalcenter.org,
Reprints permitted provided source is credited.
I was invited to review a recently released
movie titled "Buffalo Soldiers," a movie previously
released in Europe under the title "Army Go Home."
It's about corrupt and incompetent American servicemen in Germany
in the late 1980s.
My invitation to review "Buffalo
Soldiers" was prompted by a controversy over the mistitling
of the movie. Buffalo Soldiers is a well-known label given to
the African-American soldiers who defended the southwestern frontier
of the United States after the Civil War. Native Americans likened
the African-Americans to buffaloes because of the color and texture
of their hair and their tenacious, never-die spirit in battle.
Because movie titles normally signal
movie content, many Americans were concerned about the use of
the movie's title because the title and content were completely
discordant. Consequently, a key question surfaced: Why "Buffalo
Why would Miramax Film Corporation and
its parent company, the Walt Disney Company, use the highly-respected
label for African-American soldiers as the title for a movie
that has absolutely nothing to do with the Buffalo Soldiers with
whom we are all so familiar? Was it: (1) because the book on
which the movie is based is titled Buffalo Soldiers? (2) just
an eye-catching title? (3) intended to prompt prospective viewers
to purchase tickets as a result of the subliminal link to their
good feelings about the real Buffalo Soldiers? (4) a more dastardly
attempt to de-link another African-American iconic symbol from
its lofty and well-deserved place in history?
On the first question, a "yes"
answer is unacceptable because it questions the rationale for
adopting another title in Europe. By the way, a good African-American
media watchdog organization would have protested the use of this
title when the book was originally released.
Concerning question two, you may recall
that Turner Network Television (TNT) used the "Buffalo Soldiers"
name in 1997 for a television movie starring Danny Glover about
these outstanding historical American icons. It didn't, however,
attract an overwhelmingly large audience. It does not appear
logical that Miramax and Disney would expect this same title
would attract a massive audience since the movie's content was
virtually unrelated to the symbols embodied in the title.
On the third question, to think that
viewers are persuaded to purchase tickets based on some subliminal
connection also seems illogical. Did Miramax and Disney believe
moviegoers only read titles before purchasing tickets? Because
Buffalo Soldiers have the closest connection to African-Americans,
such a belief implies that African-Americans don't read before
Finally, while not being a believer in
conspiracy theories, I find it hard to believe Miramax and Disney
wanted to destroy the pristine nature of an African-American
iconic symbol like the Buffalo Soldiers by supplanting it with
an image that reportedly reeks of corruption and criminality.
What is crystal clear is that using the
Buffalo Soldier symbol as the title of this movie is the moral
equivalent of using "Rough Riders" as the title of
a movie featuring the exploits of Osama bin Laden's soldiers
of terrorism who were responsible for the events of 9/11.
As you can see, this isn't a movie review
at all. As one who attempts to make sense of this often senseless
world around us, I am unwilling to expend 98 minutes of my valuable
time nor any financial resources to screen a movie whose title
and apparent content are totally disconnected - almost schizophrenically
so. I may after Miramax and Disney provide an acceptable rationale
for their decision to title the movie "Buffalo Soldiers."
In the meantime, we should be vigilant
about preserving those historical symbols that are good and right
and deserve to be protected. Likewise, we should oppose those
who seek to tarnish such symbols with the tenacity of the Buffalo
(B.B. Robinson, Ph.D. is a
member of the National Advisory Council of the African-American
leadership network Project 21.Comments may be sent to Project21@nationalcenter.org.)
Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author,
and not necessarily those of Project 21.
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