Written by: Kevin Jarre
Starring: Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington, Cary Elwes, Morgan Freeman, Andre Braugher
The ways in which basic historical facts get distorted the farther we get from certain events never fails to bring chills down my spines. Of all wars, the Civil War appears to circulate the most disinformation from the intentions of the South, the sanctity of the Union, and the involvement of African-Americans. Glory attempts not to tell the complete story of this period of bloodshed but rather about a specific battalion trying to do their part and the struggles they faced along the way.
Tasked with leading one of the first African-American battalions in the history of the United States, Colonel Robert Shaw receives this opportunity for leadership but sees the discrimination the men of his unit face. As victories continue to mount for the Confederacy, Shaw and his men hope to join the battle and be more than mere hard labor for the Union army efforts.
Films telling stories centered mostly on individuals from marginalized identities but completely through the scope of a white protagonist, who does most of the good in said narrative have received the term “white savior” movies for good reason. It does not give true agency to these characters and instead props up the story to lionize the white individual for simply not being as bad as the people around them towards said population. You can easily think of a laundry list of movies matching this particular description and at times they receive rapturous praise. Glory gets put in this hole by many because of the story focusing on Shaw given this entire story comes from letters written from the real man, it should get some sort of pass, but one major facet this feature has is giving its Black characters agency and moments of growth in the story. They do not exist simply to aid in the lionization of the white protagonist and it certainly helps when it comes with such great actors helming these characters.
Even with this focusing on Shaw, walking away from this feature the most impactful stories belonged to the Black soldiers of the battalion and amongst them they have the most poignant conversations of the entire feature. Yes, Shaw gets heroic moments of standing up to racist officers not treating his battalion equal to white Union soldiers, but the issue of fighting for a nation that does not care for them becomes integral in the conversations of these soldiers.
Whether in their tent or in the heat of broad daylight, many arguments arrive, namely from Trip (Denzel Washington) in how he views the opportunity to serve this nation. He calls out others around him for their willingness to die for people who have treated him so badly his entire life. This becomes more than clear in the iconic scene that undoubtedly clinched this role as the one Denzel won his first Academy Award for. While there are individuals like Thomas Searles (Andre Braugher) who see this as a patriotic moment, Trip challenges him at every turn with what it means to be Black in this nation. It certainly makes the discussion all the more relevant when the film accurately depicts the racism these Black soldiers faced from fellow Union soldiers. Even their own allies in battle viewed them as less-than, which allows for some spiky moments in the training camps.
As with any war film in existence, an expectation of excellent sound work arises and this feature certainly did not disappoint. Along with Edward Zwick’s direction, they ensure the audience knows the horror of going out to war. The battles these soldiers eventually face would drive fear in any person’s heart and the sound work ensured every gunshot fired got felt on a visceral level on the screen. Nothing got sugarcoated in the pursuit of what the title suggests. Fighting in this war took plenty of sacrifice and it all gets put on full display as the battles rage on and lives get lost in the process.
Historically significant and visually splendid, Glory sidesteps being more than a white savior by doing the simple step of making the Black characters within it fully realized human beings. It allows Morgan Freeman, Denzel Washington, and Andre Braugher the opportunity to take what came in the script and add some true humanity to further enrich it. Assisting in the film’s success, it allows for an emotionally resonant feature and one shedding light on the lack of purity the “right” side had in this battle and the forgotten heroes of this particular battalion.