Militant Visions examines how, from the 1940s to the 1970s, the cinematic figure of the black soldier helped change the ways American moviegoers saw black men, for the first time presenting African Americans as vital and integrated members of the nation. In the process, Elizabeth Reich reveals how the image of the proud and powerful African American serviceman was crafted by an unexpected alliance of government propagandists, civil rights activists, and black filmmakers. Contextualizing the figure in a genealogy of black radicalism and internationalism, Reich shows the evolving images of black soldiers to be inherently transnational ones, shaped by the displacements of diaspora, Third World revolutionary philosophy, and a legacy of black artistry and performance.
Offering a nuanced reading of a figure that was simultaneously conservative and radical, Reich considers how the cinematic black soldier lent a human face to ongoing debates about racial integration, black internationalism, and American militarism. Militant Visions thus not only presents a new history of how American cinema represented race, but also demonstrates how film images helped to make history, shaping the progress of the civil rights movement itself.