01 Aug 2003 Why “Buffalo Soldiers”? by B.B. Robinson, Ph.D.
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 Soldiers”?
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 acting.
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 Soldiers.