DEAUVILLE, France (AFP) — Spike Lee visited a World War II cemetery near France's D-Day landing beaches before presenting the European premiere of his film about the forgotten contribution of African-American soldiers to the war that freed Europe from Nazi tyranny.
"I was surprised to find African-Americans buried there too," he told reporters after his trip to one of the many cemeteries on the Normandy coast where lie thousands of Allied soldiers killed as they stormed ashore in 1944.
The D-Day landings and other epic battles in World War II have been portrayed in countless films but, said the US director, nearly all show only white soldiers engaged in the struggle.
Lee's new film, "Miracle at St. Anna," aims to right that wrong.
"This film debunks the Hollywood mythology of Word War II films in general. That mythology excludes the 1.1 million African-Americans who contributed, fought and died in the war," he said before the premiere Wednesday at the Deauville Festival of American Film.
The 156-minute movie film follows four members of the all-black 92nd "Buffalo Soldier" Infantry Division trapped behind enemy lines in Nazi-occupied Italy in 1944.
Both violent and schmaltzy, it portrays the camaraderie of the four men and the tensions that emerge between them as they hole up with an Italian family in a Tuscany vilage.
It also details the racism they endured back home in the US and from their white commanders in the battle zone.
Asked about the 2006 French film "Indigenes (Days of Glory)," which like "Miracle at St. Anna" aimed to highlight the important but overlooked role of North African soldiers in the French army, Lee said he had seen and enjoyed that movie.
"That's one of the few examples where a film had an impact on real life. The (North African) veterans finally got the pension that the whites got" because of the extra pressure the movie put on the French government, he said.
"Miracle at St. Anna" is based on a novel by James McBride, who wrote the script for the movie.
The film is the first war film for New York-based Lee as well as the first movie he has made outside the US.
But the 51-year-old has worked in a number of genres and made his name by taking on issues that affect African-Americans in films such as "Jungle Fever," "Malcolm X, or "Do the Right Thing."
He said here Wednesday that his latest work was in "direct lineage from Italian post-war neo-realist works such as 'The Bicycle Thief,' 'Germany Year Zero,' and 'Rome, Open City' in each of which, as in Lee's film, a child features in a prominent role to highlight the futile cruelty of war.
Long seen as an icon of independent US cinema, Lee in 2006 made the big-budget -- and hugely successful -- "Inside Man" bank heist drama, starring Clive Owen and Denzel Washington.
The prospects for "Miracle at St. Anna" might not be so rosy if some of the first reviews are to be heeded.
The Hollywood Reporter trade magazine slammed it as "an unsavoury blend of the sentimental and melodramatic.
The Irish Times, also basing its review on the world premiere at the Toronto film festival last weekend, called it "a plodding film unwisely over-stretched to close on three hours.
"Lee's film pales in comparison with the award-winning 2006 movie, Indigenes," the paper's film critic said.
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