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Black Hawk Frowns

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Denouncing a hit movie in which you appear is a risky role for any actor -- much less a young, aspiring one. Yet Danny Hoch and Brendan Sexton III have decided to go public with their political qualms about Black Hawk Down: "It wasn't the greatest script I'd ever read -- far from it," said Sexton (Boys Don't Cry) at an antiwar lecture at Columbia University on Saturday, February 23.

"It shows how powerful and not giving a fuck of humanity Hollywood is," added Hoch (Jails, Hospitals, & Hip-Hop), "as if you didn't already know."

Hoch and Sexton insist they only agreed to play soldiers in the film (nominated for four Oscars, including Best Director for Ridley Scott) because the original script was boldly critical of America's 1993 military engagement in Somalia. Extensive revisions began right after former U.S. Army Rangers were hired as advisers, the actors say.

"They were assholes," said Sexton. "All they did was smoke cigars and criticize how we held our M-16s."

"One of them bragged he'd killed over 60 people," said Hoch.

And that was before Jesse Helms entered the picture. According to Hoch, after Army Humvees and other war matériel were shipped to Morocco (where much of the movie was shot), the Moroccan government became afraid the "military buildup" might offend its Arab allies, and filming was perilously close to being shut down.

"Jesse Helms saved the movie, is what I heard," said Hoch. "Supposedly, Jerry" -- Bruckheimer, the movie's producer -- "reminded Helms that he was spending a shitload of money with the Pentagon. Helms called the Pentagon, and the Pentagon called Morocco. Soon, we were back in business."

A spokesperson for Bruckheimer -- who is now working on a Pentagon-approved reality-TV series for ABC from Afghanistan -- said that Helms was "extremely helpful," but in negotiating with the State Department rather than the Pentagon.

As shooting continued, it was on a script that made the Somalis look, in the words of New York Times critic Elvis Mitchell, like "snarling dark-skinned beasts." Hardly surprising, said Sexton, as there were no Somali advisers.

In the Q&A session at Columbia, however, some students had to wonder whether the actors might be protesting too much. (After all, they knew they weren't signing on with Oliver Stone.) "You admit the movie is United States propaganda, but you're still in it. How does that feel?" asked an intense young woman with tiny, wire-rimmed glasses.

After a long pause, Hoch answered: "It sucks."


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