Movies: "Home of the Brave"
By Rayni Joan

The 2006 Irwin Winkler film "Home of the Brave," with Samuel Jackson and Fifty Cent, is the latest version of another powerful saga with the same name. The Winkler film relates the story of three soldiers who served in Iraq and must come to terms with their horrifying experiences there.

When my partner found out I'd never seen the original "Home of the Brave," a powerful, breakthrough film about racism in the military he remembered from his early childhood, he reserved a film by that name at the Santa Monica Public Library. We were surprised to receive instead an interesting 2004 documentary called "Home of the Brave" about the racially motivated murder of a white Civil Rights worker, Viola Liuzzo. Mrs. Liuzzo was shot and killed in 1965 after she'd driven from her home in Detroit to Selma, Alabama to assist those who were working to register African Americans to vote. The film, narrated by Stockard Channing, explores the effect of Liuzzo's murder on her family and on history. Her murder brought widespread publicity to the hardships imposed on African Americans at polling places and inspired the Civil Rights Act of 1965 which made many of those hardships illegal.

After watching that worthwhile film we'd found serendipitously, my partner tracked down the 1949 "Home of the Brave" he'd been after originally. The Los Angeles County Public Library had it, and we finally sat down to see it more than fifty years after its release. What a thrill! If you can get beyond the simplistic special effects, the black and white film, written by Carl Foreman and Arthur Laurents (based on a play by Laurents) holds up amazingly well as a poignant, shameful slice of American history as well as a riveting story.

As one comment on put it, the film provided "an important step towards the end of black stereotypes in Hollywood." A young Lloyd Bridges gives a strong performance, while James Edwards gives a dazzling performance as a heroic African American soldier who has to put up with open racism in order to carry out his duties. My partner, a white man, says this film influenced him to recognize -- and denounce -- racism at a young age.