Spike Lee’s "Miracle at St. Anna" Draws Ire of Italian Partisan Organizations, To Stage Protest at Film’s Italian Premiere

I don’t know how many people have gone out to see Spike Lee’s new movie “Miracle at St. Anna,” which bombed miserably at the weekend box office, but there is a controversy brewing in Italy. According to U.K.’s Times Online, Italian partisan organizations are to stage protests tomorrow at the Italian premiere of the film, which they say is full of lies, and insults the memory of the Italian Resistance during the Second World War.

Some have said that the film is very controversial. It is being shown first at Viareggio on the Tuscan coast, close to the village of Sant’ Anna di Stazzema in the Apennine hills above, where 560 civilians — including women and children — were murdered in cold blood in August 1944 by Nazi SS troops as they retreated northwards in the face of the Allied advance.

The movie, which highlights the role of African-American soldiers in the war, suggests that anti-Fascist partisans indirectly caused the atrocity by first taking refuge in the village and then abandoning the villagers to their fate. It even shows a partisan named Rodolfo collaborating with the Nazis. This runs directly counter to the accepted Italian version of events, which is that the slaughter was not a reprisal but an unprovoked act of brutality and that the hunt for partisans was a pretext.

The movie also questions one of the founding myths of Italy’s postwar democracy, which holds that the help the partisans gave to the Allies regained Italy the honour it had lost under Benito Mussolini, the Fascist dictator, by allying itself with Hitler and Nazi Germany. No doubt this has ruffled many feathers in Italy and I suspect the same for Italian-Americans as well.

James McBride, the black American Second World War veteran who wrote the novel on which Mr Lee’s film is based, said: “I am very sorry if I have offended the partisans. I have enormous respect for them. As a black American, I understand what it’s like for someone to tell your history, and they are not you.” He added: “But unfortunately, the history of World War II here in Italy is ours as well, and this was the best I could do … it is after all a work of fiction, not a history book.”

Spike Lee was also unrepentant, saying: “I am not apologizing for anything.” He told Italians that there was clearly “a lot about your history you have yet to come to grips with … This film is our interpretation, and I stand behind it.” Isn’t Spike Lee the same person who came down on Clint Eastwood about his movies “Letters from Iwo Jima” and “Flags of Our Fathers?”

According to Times Online, Lee said that the film, which follows the fate of four black GIs, was intended “to restore the voice of black soldiers who fought in the war.” He said that “not all Italians admired the partisans”, many of whom had fled to the mountains and left civilians to face the Nazis. “I have not invented anything,” he declared. The partisans in Italy feel that the film was a false reconstruction and a travesty of history and should not be tolerated.

The film has so far been given a mixed reception in the US, where in its first week it took only $3.5 million at the box office. Six former SS officers were sentenced to life in absentia three years ago for the Sant’ Anna atrocity. The prosecutions followed the discovery by a journalist in 1994 of a cabinet in the Rome military archives — dubbed “the cabinet of shame” — which contained evidence of war crimes hushed up by successive postwar Italian governments in order not to revive hostility towards Germany, by then a democratic member of the EU and NATO.

Well, I haven’t seen the movie, but for those of you who have, any thoughts?

  • LennieG

    My husband and I both plan to see this movie. I don’t care who does not lie it.

  • gene

    I had high hopes for this film, because it’s a Spike Lee joint, and due to the subject (black soldiers in WWII). There were parts of this film that I really liked, and some things I didn’t like. But I know most people won’t really like it.

    One thing I noticed was that the soldiers speak like real black men, including using the N-word. I think the first time it is used is when one not-so-bright black soldier is telling another about a dream he had. The other soldier looks at him, and starts off with, “Now see nigga, I ain’t concerned with yo’ dreams…”

    That line made me laugh out loud, but the all-white audience around me was pretty quiet. I don’t think they got the humor in lines like that.

  • Janet Shan

    Lynn — I hear you. My husband and I plan on going to see it too. The box office receipts for the film are very disappointing and I think that is a real shame. I am sure they pale in comparison to what Clint Eastwood will bring in for his.

    Gene — Thank you very much for your comments. I appreciate and respect your candor. I guess maybe the use of the n-word was meant to make the film as real life as possible. I know it will offend a lot of people and rightly so. I was very disappointed, but not surprised to see that it only pulled in $3.5 million for the weekend. I think it will only go downhill from there.

    Thanks for the comments!

  • Brother OMi

    I plan on seeing it soon. I am a huge Lee fan.

    To the Italians, I hate to say it, but the Allied retaking of Italy really happened without partisan assistance. If anything, Italy would have been retaken sooner if the Germans did not decide to hold the line and send reinforcements. If anything, the Germans were the problem.

    It seems that most of the books I read, people I have interviewed , etc. about the Italian theatre pretty much express the idea that the Allies rolled through the Italian Forces like a hot knife through butter.

    Unfortunately, there are those who try to rewrite themselves on the side of the good and it doesn’t work. Just accept the L and keep it moving.

    Personally, I feel that the Italians have issues with the idea that black people are telling their story. I have been to Italy and I felt like i was in NYC again.

  • freemanpress

    I saw the movie when it came out. It literally makes it look like a Partisan accidentally set in motion the actions that made the SS murder everyone at St. Anna. Overall I thought it was good movie about the roles of Blacks in the war. How some issues we still face today about where we fit in, how others see us, and how we deal with racism is explained in a war like context. The movie was very easy going and I know why it didn’t do well because it’s not a Big question being answered but it was worth the money.

  • Renee

    I really want to see this movie but of course it is not playing in the small town in which I live. They have a history of not showing black or gay films….inclusive area eh. The closet cinema showing it to me is 40 mins away.
    I think that it is important to support the work of blacks in the media. Our voices have been silenced and our stories are never told. If this movie does not do well they are going to use it as yet another excuse to call Spike Lee a failure. I much prefer to see work done by him than the run of blaxsploitation flms that are generally aimed at the black community.

  • Anonymous

    Spike Lee is a jerk. Pompous, overly self-important and deluded with his “mission” to bring “equality”. He says he has a mission but it’s really all about him feeling superior to others. He “needs” the spotlight way too much and he does a disservice to all blacks with his ugly view of life and how he infuses every story with that ugliness.

    I’m not surprised people he uses to promote his mission object to his abuse. I wouldn’t want to be his target either. It seems he will go to any length to achieve his aim of “proving” he is equal, nay superior, to other directors. That is just his stupid pipe dream.

    If more of his work is reviled like this maybe he will get the message and back away from the spotlight. We need more people like Will Smith, Morgan Freeman, Denzel Washington and Forrest Whitaker making good movies instead of the “made-for-the-sole-reason-of-self-promotion” trash like Lee puts out.

    Obviously I’m anonymous because I’m sure my opinion won’t be popular in the Spike-lovers segment here…. again, this is JMHO but I know I’m not the only one.

  • Brother OMi


    a good number of black actors began their careers through Spike Lee (Washington, Sam Jackson, and yes Halle Berry)

  • Anonymous

    “James McBride, the black American Second World War veteran who wrote the novel on which Mr Lee’s film is based”

    James McBride is not a veteran of WW2 or any other war. He was obrin in 1957.

  • Anonymous

    ‘ was obrin in

    “born in”