Title: The Unbroken (December 25,2014)
Cast: Jack O’Connell, Takamasa Ishihara, Domhnall Gleeson
Director: Angelina Jolie
Genre: Biography – Drama – Sport
Review written by Dr. Vibert Muhammad Ph.D., History Professor, University of Central Florida
A couple of days ago my family and I watched the film, “The Unbroken,” directed and produced by Angelina Jolie that was based on Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption (2010).
The film revolves around the life of Italian-American Louis Zamperini who transforms from being a street thug into becoming an Olympic athlete for the 1936 Berlin Games who later joins the American military and is shot down over Japan in a bombing raid. Louis and two others are stranded on a raft in the Pacific Ocean 45 days until rescued/captured by the Imperial Navy.
Zamperini’s tenure as a Japanese prisoner of war is dictated by the narcissist and cruel prisoner of war camp director, Mutsuhiro “Bird” Watanabe who punishes and beats Louis because of his status as an Olympic track star.
Under cruel conditions Louis is given the opportunity to have a better existence as a POW if only he reads a radio propaganda script for the Japanese government directed at the American public. However, the Italian-American refuses and is returned to the demonic Bird who continues his harsh treatment of the American until the end of the war.
The final scenes of the film shows an elderly and born again Christian Zamperini running through the streets of Tokyo with an Olympic torch and a border script of his forgiveness of Bird and the Japanese for their mistreatment of American prisoners.
Now, while the story is compelling and empowering to white Americans that caused many to shed tears and applaud to the strength and greatness of Zamperini ; The Unbroken is really a miscarriage of reality and bad historical revisionism.
First, let us look at 1936 Berlin Games.
The writers of the film illustrate Berlin Games as a special moment for Americans due to Louis running a 56.0 second flat last lap in his distance run—which he came in 8th place. Well, the real star of the Games was Jesse Owens, the Buckeye Bullet.
Owens won four gold medals that forced German leader, Adolph Hitler to leave the stadium early in defeat to the prowess of the African-American. However, in the movie you only see a shadowy view of Owens in background. If I did not know American history I would surely have thought that Louis was the superstar of the Berlin Games.
If that was not bad enough the film features Louis and his comrades joking and having a good time as they are dropping bombs on villages, towns and cities of Japan that killed 100 of thousands Japanese civilians.
However, the soldiers along with the theater viewers are numb to the reality of the cruel bombing of the Americans on non-combatants in Japan. The juxtaposition to this event features the cruelty of Japanese pilots shooting at Louis and his two friends float adrift on a raft in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
The reviewers are left with the perspective that the Japanese are a race of cruel, racist people who are cold calculated killers. However, we forget that the United States at this time practiced a harsh code of segregation coupled with racist mob violence, lynching, police brutality and a segregated military that identified African-Americans as second class citizens and a permanent inferior underclass in American society.
Lastly, the greatest contradiction is in the films conclusion. That is, the final scene is the Japanese officers of the prisoner’s camp instruct the POWs to walk into the ocean the bath as the American air force is buzzing the Japanese skies that supposed to indicate the end of the war.
However, the end comes in reality when the United States drops two atomic bombs on the Japanese island that kills over 100,000 civilians in which the historical data of the world indicate it was an inhumane attack and not needed for an American victory. Sadly, the film’s narrator ignores this very important segment of the story.
The Unbroken is a racist film that portrays the victims of World War II as invisible beings (African-Americans) and diabolical brutes (Japanese) who violated all accords of the Geneva Convention and humanity.
If you are in need of a story to glorify and negate the real role of the American Pacific campaign—see the movie. If you want the truth—visit your local library to explore and study the truth of America’s role in WWII.
Dr. Vibert Muhammad is a faculty member in the History Department at the University of Central Florida.
He is the premier scholar on the Nation of Islam and Islam among people of the African diaspora. His works have been shown on PBS, BBC, the History Channel, Discovery and several major networks such as NBC, ABC, and CBS.
His scholarship also ranges into Afro-Latino Cultural History, Constitutional and Legal History,and Labor and Social History.
He is the author of hundreds of articles and the academic bestseller, Inside The Nation of Islam.