FORGOTTEN HOLLYWOOD: Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)

BDBR

Warner Bros. Entertainment

This is the first part in a series of blog posts on classic Hollywood films related to World War II. For the inaugural entry, I’ve chosen to write about Bad Day at Black Rock, a 1955 film directed by John Sturges.

Hollywood – and America in general – has had a hard time grappling with the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. It’s rarely mentioned, taught, or depicted. I first learned about it not through a school curriculum but through the American Adventure children’s book series. But still, in 1942, over 100,000 Americans were forcibly removed from their homes, often losing their personal belongings and property in the process.

Bad Day at Black Rock in one of the few times Hollywood has confronted this chapter of American history. After the end of the war, John J. Macreedy (Spencer Tracy) goes to the small town of Black Rock looking for Komoko, the father of a man who saved his life in Italy. But something is wrong, and he can’t find him or his property. I won’t spoil the ending for those who haven’t seen it, but the anti-Japanese sentiment surrounding and leading up to the war naturally plays a huge role in the unfolding mystery.

There are no Japanese American or Asian American actors or characters in this film. Instead, there is a sort of constructed absence. They should be there, and the fact that they’re not is disturbing. As such, despite Macreedy being the central character with his own emotional arc, the missing Komoko can’t help but dominate the film.

Hollywood would make only a few more movies related to the internment and its aftermath, most notably Come See the Paradise (1990) and Snow Falling on Cedars (1999). While both feature Japanese American characters, the films still centred their narrative around a white male protagonist and how the mass interment affected him and his love life. Bad Day at Black Rock, despite being an older film, seems to have a better understanding of the issue than its successors. The mass internment of Japanese Americans wasn’t the result of an illogical prejudice or the inescapable tide of history. Anti-Japanese racism wasn’t a kneejerk reaction to Pearl Harbor or to losing loved ones in the Pacific theatre. Those were just the excuses. Ultimately, it was a land grab. Plain and simple.

Komoko should be here, but he’s not. His land should be his, but it isn’t. There’s something wrong about that.

If you want to learn more about the internment of Japanese American during World War II, be sure to check out the following books from the 2AD Memorial Library:

  • Japanese American Internment During World War II: A History and Reference Guide (Wendy Ng, 2002)
  • Democraticizing the Enemy: The Japanese American Internment (Brian Masaru Hayashi, 2004)
  • The Art of Gaman: Arts and Crafts from the Japanese American Internment Camps, 1942-46 (Delphine Hirasuna, 2005)
  • The Internment of Japanese Americans During World War II: Detention of American Citizens (John C. Davenport, 2010)
  • Infamy: The Shocking Story of the Japanese American Internment in World War II (Richard Reeves, 2015)

-Francis

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American Internment: The Forgotten Legacy of WWII

It’s around this time of year that thoughts tend towards family and friends. The other day while thinking about this I found myself remembering stories I had heard from my grandmother-in-law in one of seasonal visits to her home. She has lead an amazing life; raising a family, becoming friends with Frank Lloyd Wright, witnessing WWII and the American Civil Rights movement. But, the most incredible of her stories in my estimation deal with a little known and seldom discussed episode in US history which she experienced first-hand and which forever altered her world-view; the Japanese internment camps of Executive Order 9066.

Rose Tanaka, born Rose Hanawa in San Luis Obispo California, was only 15 when Pearl Harbor happened and when 74 days later President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 allowing the government “to prescribe military areas in such places and of such extent as he or the appropriate Military Commander may determine, from which any or all persons may be excluded.” This order, while not inherently targeted at any ethnic group, quickly became used to gather and detain individuals of Japanese descent around the country. Rose, along with her family, were sent to perhaps the most famous of these, Manzanar, which was located in the California desert. For farmers from the California coast who supplemented their diets with fresh seafood moving to such a barren inhospitable place was especially difficult, on top of all the issues already inherent with such detention.

I spent hours with Rose going through her old yearbooks and correspondence from the two years she spent here. While it was in all aspects a prison, concessions were made for education, almost entirely volunteer, and journalism. Rose used her time in the camp to learn, make lifelong friends, and even have some fun such as playing trombone for the camp marching band. While I can’t truly put into words what her experience was like there are numerous wonderful films and documentaries about the camps by people who, like Rose and myself, do not feel that this part of history should be forgotten. Rose herself has often been interviewed for projects such as this and has spent the 70+ years since she left the camps advocating for civil rights and working hard to make America the place her parents dreamed it would be.

For more information about life in Manzanar in her own words I’ve attached two links. The first is to a youtube clip of an interview from one of the documentaries which Rose participated in ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-u-5st6VIWk )and the second is an official transcript of an interview performed by the National Park Service covering Rose’s life before, during, and after the camps ( https://bit.ly/2AN3Kyk ).

I hope that, as heavy a subject as this is, those of you who suffered through my writing will have learned a small part of America’s largely forgotten history and by writing this I will have helped Rose in her mission to spread information and understanding.

-Mike

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Meeting Francis – The Other New UEA American Scholar

Hello! Allow me to introduce myself. My Name is Francis. I was born in Chicago and raised in a combination of Tennessee, Kentucky, Minnesota, and Iowa. If you ask though, I consider my hometown to be Williamsburg, KY. (Although, technically, I lived 10 minutes outside of town next to a cow farm.)

I’m here in the UK earning my PhD in Film, Television, and Media Studies. My research is specifically about the ascription of race to animated bodies in contemporary US television animation. However, my interests extend to various corners of film and television history. Anyone looking for some classic Hollywood recommendations, feel free to stop by for a chat.

Outside of school, I really love baking and cooking. I’ve recently gotten into making my own jam! Maybe I’ll have an opportunity to share a few recipes with you all.

Anyway, I look forward to getting to know the community here at Norwich and at the 2nd Air Division Memorial Library.

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Meeting Michael – New UEA American Scholar

Hello friends and fans of the 2AD Memorial Library. I’d like to use this inaugural post of mine to introduce myself a bit. I’m sure over the next year between this blog and other avenues of communication you will get to know me much better but I feel it’s always nice to have a head start.

I was born and raised in Fargo, North Dakota. I was fortunate enough in my youth to travel frequently which inflicted me with the travel bug, eventually aiding my move to the UK. My academic path has been extremely circuitous due to my interests in myriad subjects. I began with dual degrees in Anthropology and History from the University of North Dakota. Following this I moved to Boulder, Colorado where I spent 4 years earning an MA in Anthropology. My area of research during this time period was on the bacteria found within African primates, specifically Bushbabies in South Africa.

This research on bacteria and diseases led me down a new academic trajectory and I ended up back in North Dakota where I studied for, and received a Master’s in Public Health (MPH). During these two years I became more and more interested in how diseases spread and are diagnosed. When my wife was accepted into the literary translation program at UEA I found the perfect new program to follow these research interests. And so, I am currently earning a PhD from the UEA Faculty of Medicine and Health developing a new DNA sequencing-based method for diagnosing and tracing the spread of Tuberculosis; a far cry from my early career as a historian and anthropologist studying primate/human interactions.

In my personal life I enjoy amateur photography, scuba diving, and reading. Slightly odd I know for someone who lived in two very landlocked states to enjoy an ocean sport but you find the fun where you can. In my down time I also like to explore Norwich and see all the amazing pieces of history that have been kept alive even as the city grew.

I look forward to my time writing for you all and hopefully I can find some subjects which are of interest to ramble on about. And of course if any of you want to know more or have any suggestions I’d love to hear from you.

Cheers,

Michael

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