One of the most highly-acclaimed war films ever made is coming back for an encore! 30 years after its release, the American Civil War drama Glory will make its stand this summer, on 600 select theaters around the country.
Epic in scope and theme, Glory reveals the powerful true story of the very first black fighting unit in US history—the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, comprised of 1,007 volunteer black soldiers who journeyed from far and wide to answer the historic call of duty.
Formed up in Massachusetts in 1863, the regiment’s final roll call included men from Southern slave states, eager to fight for the freedom of those still in forced servitude. The times did not yet allow for the appointment of black officers, and so the Army tapped Captain Robert Shaw (played by an understated Matthew Broderick). The 25-year old Shaw, on medical leave after the fighting at Antietam, was offered a promotion to Colonel to lead the new regiment in a charge against Fort Wagner, South Carolina. With some reluctance, he gave up his rest and accepted the new and unique command.
But a shocking twist awaited. Colonel Shaw learned that the Confederacy had announced an unsettling reaction to Emancipation Proclamation—that any black soldiers seen in Union uniform would be shown no mercy and summarily executed, along with their commander officers.
Undeterred, the enlisted soldiers declined offers to be honorably discharged, and began training to become a cohesive fighting force. But after training finished and the march got underway, things went wrong quickly as they ran short of gear needed to accomplish the mission. In a grave blow to morale, Private Silas Trip (played by Denzel Washington, who won an Oscar for his role) was punished after going AWOL, and ordered to be flogged in front of the others. Only after this sentence was carried out did Colonel Shaw learn that Trip had only been trying to obtain shoes for the men, because the racist quartermaster was withholding them.
Lack of quality weapons and insufficient uniform items weren’t the only challenges the 54th had to endure on the road to war. The film also portrays the discrimination in pay faced by the soldiers, who ripped up their pay vouchers in protest of the unequal treatment. Shaw, to his credit as a leader, did the same in an act of solidarity. Despite these hardships and prejudices, the march went boldly on as the young officer grew to better understand the trials faced by his troops. But their woes had only just begun. It wasn’t until they finally reached Charleston in July that the men, ready to fulfill their mission, discovered what was truly lying in store for them…
We’ll stop right there, so as not to give away any spoilers! But for anyone interested in history, civil rights, or just awe-inspiring filmmaking, this is a great opportunity to catch Glory up on the big screen. 156 years after that fateful Second Battle of Fort Wagner, we can commemorate the bravery of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment once again, thanks to the re-release of Edward Zwick’s Academy Award-winning film. To find out if it’s playing near you, visit Fathom Events website and punch in your zip code! And if it’s not at your theater (or you missed the date) you can always pick up a copy to enjoy in the comfort of your own home whenever you want.
Alongside Brodrick and Washington, the movie also features Cary Elwes as Major Cabot Forbes and Morgan Freeman as Sergeant Major John Rawlins. Freeman, like the director himself, had concerns during production about the movie being overly focused on a white protagonist versus on the unit as a whole. “This is a picture about the 54th Regiment, not Colonel Shaw,” he stated, “but at the same time the two are inseparable.” Zwick also related struggles with getting the script accepted, saying, “Had I originally shown that script—which describes racism, a whipping by a junior officer, incidents of all sorts of insubordination and questionable treatment—to the Department of Defense, I do not think at that time they would have been able to support it.”
Luckily Zwick was able to get the movie made the way he wanted, and boasts that “[Glory] is shown today in Officer Candidate School as an example of the tribulations of leadership and as inspiration to the rank and file.”
Despite its numerous awards and nominations, Glory wasn’t a big box office success during its initial run, largely due to the poor decision to release it during the Christmas holiday season. Can’t imagine who’s idea that was, but hopefully the timing of this summer second chance will give Zwick’s classic the wider audience it deserves!
See you at the movies!