I don't really have much patience for political correctness, and I'm not one who sees racism everywhere. It means something, then, when I say that “Black Hawk Down” may be the most racist movie I have ever seen. The movie is decently-filmed, frenetic war-porn, but the constant barrage of menacing, black faces charging at the white protagonists eventually takes on the feel of a video game for white supremacists.
“Black Hawk Down” is based on America's adventures in Somalia, in 1993. As clan warlords tore Somalia apart, American troops joined a multinational force of “peacekeepers.” During an operation to capture a some high-ranking militia leaders, everything went to shit, and American troops encountered more resistance than expected. Two helicopters were shot down, and the efforts to rescue those crews extended the short mission into a vicious overnight battle. The mission succeeded in its objectives, but 18 American soldiers died, with 73 wounded. At the time, this was America's bloodiest battle since Vietnam.
That we considered this a major defeat is a testament to our arrogance, considering that Somali casualties ran in the thousands. During this operation, American soldiers drove right into the middle of an enemy stronghold to take their leaders captive. The idea that we could do this without taking some casualties is pure hubris. Does “Black Hawk Down” do anything to correct that hubris? Not really. The movie simply revels in the violence, celebrating the individual heroism of the American soldiers, while treating the hateful, unexplained enemy as faceless avatars to be slaughtered. I have no problem with the film acknowledging each American death, but meanwhile,Somalis are being killed by the hundreds. I was curious why, after seeing their comrades mowed down by superior firepower, those Somalis kept charging in to kill and be killed. Instead of exploring their motivations, the movie gives us the captured arms dealer Atto (George Harris) another menacing black man, who smugly smokes cigars in American detention while lecturing General Garrison (Sam Shepard) that “This is our war, not yours.”
I don't call this movie racist simply because it depicts a black enemy. I also find it amazing that in this large, ensemble cast, there is only one black soldier (Gabriel Casseus), and his role is a minor one. The U.S army is 20-30% black, and yet out of the 20-or-so soldier characters whose faces we see more than once in this film, only one is black, and his is barely a speaking role. To quote everyone on social media, “I'm just sayin'.”
Even though we won the Battle of Mogadishu, it killed America's appetite for intervention in Somalia. Bill Clinton pulled our troops out of the country afterward, leaving it to chaos. It simply became clear that there was no way for us to win there. The only thing Somalis wanted to do more than kill each other was kill outsiders. There was an important lesson there about the limits of military power, but “Black Hawk Down” skips right over any opportunity to explore that lesson.
Technically, “Black Hawk Down” is awesome. Director Ridley Scott captures the chaos of battle, and keeps you on the edge of your seat the entire time. He also honors the sacrifices of some very brave American soldiers. It's a shame he didn't do it with a better, more thoughtful film.
2 stars out of 5