Eastwood rejects Lee's criticism of his WW2 films

U.S. director Clint Eastwood attends a news conference for the film "The Exchange" at the 61st Cannes Film Festival May 20, 2008. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier

BERLIN (Reuters Life!) - Veteran actor and director Clint Eastwood rejected criticism from fellow U.S. director Spike Lee that his films “Flags of Our Fathers” and “Letters from Iwo Jima” failed to recognize the role of African-American soldiers.

In an interview with Germany’s Focus magazine, Eastwood said it was nonsense to suggest he had “erased the role of black GIs from history”. He said there were no Afro-Americans in those films because there were no Afro-American soldiers involved.

“Does he know anything about American history?” Eastwood told Focus when asked about Lee’s criticism. “The U.S. military was segregated til the Korean War, and the blacks in World War Two were totally segregated. The only black battalion on Iwo Jima was a small munitions supply unit that came to the beach.

“The story was about the men who raised the flag and we can’t make them black if they were not there. So tell him: Why don’t you go back and study your history and stop mouthing off!”

Lee had said in an interview with Reuters that Hollywood has mostly ignored the role played by black American soldiers and has made a film about the racially segregated, all-black 92nd Buffalo Division which fought against Nazi occupation in Italy.

“Many black veterans who fought in Iwo Jima were hurt that there was no representation of them in both of those films,” Lee said in the 2007 interview in Rome.

“Flags of Our Fathers” deals with the U.S. soldiers who raised the flag while “Letters from Iwo Jima” looks at the battle from the Japanese point of view.

“Very few Hollywood films deal with black soldiers,” Lee said. “For the most part, if you look at the history of Hollywood cinema they haven’t dealt with anybody other than white Americans. If you think Hollywood and World War Two, you think John Wayne -- the great white male that saved the world.”

Writing by Erik Kirschbaum; editing by Paul Casciato