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Monday, 21 January, 2002, 16:56 GMT
Jingoism jibe over Black Hawk Down
Shot from Blackhawk down
Blackhawk Down: Coincides with US patriotic mood
By the BBC's Jonathan Fryer

Black Hawk Down, a blockbusting war movie based on the shooting down of two US Blackhawk helicopters in Somalia in 1993, has been released to critical acclaim in the United States.

But there have been allegations in several parts of the world that the film unfairly glorifies American troops while belittling other nationalities involved.

Post 11 September, the US movie-going public is in patriotic mode.

US Blackhawk over Mogadishu
Mr Tookey: The film "rewrites history"
So from the film director Ridley Scott's point of view, there could hardly have been a better moment to release his epic war movie which is stuffed full not just with graphic military action, but also with American heroism.

The film centres on the real life incident in which Somali militia succeeded in shooting down two American helicopters that were part of a US-led effort to help secure deliveries of food aid in war-torn Somalia.

A rescue operation was launched by US forces, notably helped by Malaysian soldiers on the ground.

Nineteen Americans died in the ensuing battle, and graphic pictures were sent round the world of the body of one soldier being dragged around the Somali capital, Mogadishu.

'Fiasco'

Ridley Scott - who has long been based in Hollywood, but is actually British by birth - explained the point of his film. "What we do is to engage the audience for two or two and a half hours and take them into a war that they would normally never experience.


This is a very questionable movie - it really rewrites history

Daily Mail critic Christopher Tookey
"I thought - just make it as it was. Try not to romanticise it. Try not to sentimentalise it - and leave the audience with questions at the end, not necessarily answers," he told the BBC.

There have certainly been questions - from some ordinary film-goers as well as from professional film critics.

One has been whether the film turns what most modern historians have classified as a US military disaster into something far more upbeat.

"I think the [US] army wanted this film to be made because of the misconception that it was a fiasco," said Ridley Scott.

"From their point of view, it wasn't a fiasco. They went in there and did what they wanted to do. What they were most furious about was that then they were withdrawn."

'Jingoism'

Christopher Tookey, film critic of the large-circulation British tabloid newspaper The Daily Mail, says Black Hawk Down is indeed a remarkably powerful war-film.

"It is a brilliant 'you are there' film. You really do feel those rocket-powered grenades whizzing round your head," he said.

Josh Hartnett in Blackhawk Down
The film is accused of exaggerating US heroism
"And it carries a really true sense of the fog of war and the confusion that it creates. And anyone who is thinking of going should be warned that it is incredibly gruesome," he said.

However, Mr Tookey is far less impressed with the spin he believes Ridley Scott has put on the reality behind the story, which fits in with the intensely patriotic mood of most Americans at the moment.

"I think he was interested in seizing on the positive, which is the heroism of American soldiers under fire," he said.

"And the film has been rush-released to take advantage of this jingoism that has already made a hit of another movie called Behind Enemy Lines.

"Astonishingly, this seems to be working with American critics who have hailed it [Black Hawk Down] as a possible Oscar winner," said Mr Tookey.

"But really this is a very questionable movie. It really rewrites history."

Malaysia complaints

There have already been complaints from Malaysia, some of whose troops were also involved in rescuing US troops in Somalia.

The commander of Malaysian forces there at the time, retired Brigadier-General Abdul Latif Ahmad, was quoted by the AFP news agency saying that the record needs to be set straight.

US troops in Somalia
Critics accuse the film of belittling non-US characters
Otherwise, he said, "Malaysian movie-goers will be under the wrong impression that the real battle was fought by the Americans alone, while we were mere bus drivers to ferry them out."

But it is the Somalis who might feel they have the right to be most aggrieved, as they are largely caricatures in the film, mostly depicted as fanatical followers of the warlord Farah Aideed.

"They were not characterised, they were not telling their story," said Yusuf Hassan of the BBC's Somali service.

"At that time, I was covering the conflict as a journalist, and I know that the people who were fighting were not only supporters of Aideed.

"Many of them were just people in the neighbourhood who got caught up in this fire and were trying to defend their homes, as they thought they were under attack," he said.

Somali courage

To add insult to injury, despite the fact that there are tens of thousands of Somali refugees in the United States, Britain and elsewhere, who could in principle have been used as extras in the film, the black actors used are of other nationalities who are physically totally different.

Besides, as far as Yusuf Hassan is concerned, it is arguable who were the real heroes in the Somali incident, given the unequal nature of the conflict

"It [the film] was sort of portraying the Americans as heroes, when in fact they had all the technology. It was a hi-tech war - against people who only had AK47 rifles," he said.

Certainly, many inhabitants of Mogadishu at the time were impressed that the militia managed to bring down two US helicopters with the fairly basic military equipment that they had.

But unless another film director decides to make an alternative version of the Black Hawk Down story, it looks as if it is the Hollywood version of reality that will stick in most people's minds.

See also:

18 Jan 02 | Reviews
Black Hawk focuses on war
21 Dec 01 | Africa
Somalia's role in terror
23 Nov 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Somalia
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