Title:  Men of Honor

Release Date:  2000

Nationality and Language: USA, English

Running time: 128 min

MPAA Rating: PG

Distributor and Production Company:  20th Century Fox

Director; Writer: George Tillman, Jr,  wr Scott Marshall Smith

Producer: Bill Badalato

Cast:   Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Robert De Niro, directed by George Timman

Technical:  Scope

Relevance to DOASKDOTELL site: military segregation



Movie Review of Men of Honor

Starring Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Robert De Niro, directed by George Timman, 20th Century Fox


This biography of Carl Brashear (Cuba Gooding), the first African-American diver in the U.S. Navy diving corps, looks interesting on the wide screen (rather than a cable channel). The story spans the years 1943, when Carl gives up a day of school out of family honor to help his sharecropper dad in Kentucky, to 1966, when Brashear comes roaring back after losing his leg in a shipboard accident after finding a downed nuclear weapon in the Mediterranean.  The accident scene, in fact, is graphic: the winch strikes his leg on camera, and afterwards he actually asks to have it amputated on the theory that he will better be able to dive again with a functional prosthesis.


But the point of the story, of course, is a black person making it in a relatively recently integrated military, in 1952, when he attends the diving school in Bayonne, N.J. (looks too much like California in the movie). Truman, recall, had ordered the integration in 1948, and it would take some years for the order to really work through the chain of command, before  all commanders would obey orders and take it seriously.  The boozing Master Chief Sunday (Robert De Niro) as does the psychopathic post commander, have their troubles with it.  


In fact, when Brashear reports to the school, only a stammering redhead from Wisconsin will bunk in the same room.  The other guys scream, “I don’t bunk with niggers!”  Soon the hostile blanket parties follow. And it’s easy to imagine rewriting that sentence for the issue of the 90’s.  And I suppose that the filmmakers want the audience to think of the analogy with gays.


The “integration” of open gays into the military would be so much more difficult because, in the minds of some people, allowing gays to board in the same barracks would almost be like co-ed bunking.  The forced intimacy of military service may be quite extreme, as with hot bunking and cold-weather poncho sharing. So it seems sensible to respect the “right” of a soldier not to have to bunk with someone who make regard him as sexually attractive (or unattractive) and have this unseen but visceral reaction affect the bonding within the unit.


Yet, men in the early 50’s often saw “integration” as an unacceptable assault on their “privacy.” George Wallace had said, “segregation forever,” and to a modern mind, this seems stupid, or nothing more than economic and social turf protection. Younger men in future generations, at least better educated ones, may look at these same arguments with respect to gays as equally silly.  Yet, today, given the incredible psychological challenges of a fighting force that often draws from disadvantaged segments of society, the “sexual privacy” argument still sounds serious.


Even so, what everyone roots for is for someone to overcome the prejudices of others and become a hero. It’s going to be much more subtle with and difficult with the gay issue—both in real life and film—than it was with the race issue.  But it will happen.


The script of the movie does not do as much with the “honor” concept as it might have, other than to say that prejudice itself would undermine honor.  Again, in the gay issue it gets much richer.   




Related reviews: Coming Out Under Fire, Soldier’s Girl


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