Portland Film Festival review: 'Buffalo Soldiers'
This story is part of our ongoing series on the Portland Film Festival. Click here for more coverage.
"Buffalo Soldiers: Fighting on Two Fronts" focuses some long-neglected attention on Black soldiers — dubbed "buffalo soldiers" by American Indian tribes against whom the Black soldiers were first deployed in the mid-1800s because of the resemblance of their hair to that of their then-plentiful animal neighbors.
Employing experts and descendants to piece together the history and making use of photos and dramatic reenactments to illuminate the stories, the film examines how military service offered one of the only avenues for any sort of social advancement, however fraught, available to Black people.
It highlights the achievements they managed to make despite assignments that others didn't want, frequent erasure from battle narratives, and lack of access to compensation and benefits afforded to other soldiers.
There are some ironies here, as Black regiments were frequently deployed in service of colonization, beginning with the so-called Indian Wars, in Cuba for the Spanish-American War, and in battles with Mexico and in the Philippines.
In some ways, viewed with this lens, the experience of Black soldiers reflects specific aspects of structural racism, capitalism, and colonization that are hard to see otherwise. The film does not shy away from those connections, but also offers recognition to contributions that have long been overlooked.
Watching it offers a good occasion for practicing expanding our awareness to include ever more of what is true.
Film reviewer Darleen Ortega is a lifelong fan of movies and will be covering the Portland Film Festival for Pamplin Media Group. In her day job, Ortega is judge on the Oregon Court of Appeals.
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