As a fan of both WWII and horror movies, it took me a surprisingly long time to get around to seeing Overlord. Having seen it, I found the film disappointingly predictable. However, my concern here is not with assessing the aesthetic aspects of the film, but the glaring historical inaccuracy. If you have not seen the movie yet, there will be some spoilers.
The film opens in a way that shows the director is familiar with the Call of Duty series (over-the-top CGI explosions) but also includes a surprise to those familiar with history: the focus is on an integrated team from the 101st Airborne. While the soldiers engage in the usual early movie insulting banter of war films, there is not even a hint of racism. In fact, the white soldiers are incredibly respectful of their black sergeant. There are, of course, two problems here. The first s that there was no hint of even the slightest racism against the black characters. The second is that the U.S. Military was not integrated until 1948—well after the June 6, 1944 setting of the movie. As such, the movie is historically inaccurate on a significant and obvious matter. i
The first problem can easily be addressed: not everyone was racist in the 1940s, so these soldiers could just be very enlightened on race. While this seems improbable, it is not impossible—and one might say that if you can accept the Nazi science that re-animates the dead and grants the living superhuman abilities, then accepting enlightened soldiers in 1944 is easy.
The second problem does not admit of an easy solution: the movie is simply wrong about the historical facts. One solution, which would also address the first problem, is that the movie is set in an alternate reality that contains Nazi super-science but lacks American racism. While absolutely no backstory is provided for this, one could imagine that in this alternate reality the civil rights movement started decades earlier or something else occurred to create an integrated and tolerant military. It could be argued that the screenwriters left this out because the characters would not discuss such alternative history while on a mission. That said, if the real explanation for the apparent inaccuracy is that it is an alternative reality, then the movie should at least make some gesture of trying to address that point. Audiences that know history are certainly owed some explanation for the inaccuracy. It is certainly possible that they did not care about the inaccuracy and gave no real thought to it when selecting the actors.
While some might suspect that I have suddenly become a racist and will now rant against casting black actors in what should be white roles; this is not a point I will make. I have no issue with casting women and minorities in roles traditionally occupied by white men. One of my concerns is with historical accuracy—although I can certainly accept arguments for inaccuracies that make for a better movie. In the case of Overlord, they could have retained the accuracy about integration and had an integrated cast by having the soldiers be from different units thrown together for some plausible story reason (though this might require some historical tweaking, the only African American combat unit landing on D Day was the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion). Since such an easy fix exists to retain historical accuracy on a significant matter available, the failure of the movie stands out even more. Whatever goals the filmmakers wished to achieve through in integrated cast could have been met without sacrificing accuracy.
I also have a more significant moral concern with the movie being inaccurate on this matter. The integration of the armed forces and the acceptance of black soldiers were major milestones in American history that required a great deal of effort and sacrifice. While a movie is under no obligation to make political or moral points (and doing so can sometimes detract from a work), there is an obligation not to simply ignore important historical matters such as the integration of the armed forces of the United States. This would be somewhat like having a movie set in 1916 and having women legally voting in the United States without any explanation for why this is happening. Ignoring such achievements is an insult, albeit not a major one, to those who gave so much to accomplish them. As such, Overlord suffers from an easily fixable historical inaccuracy that is somewhat of an insult to those whose efforts made the integration of the armed forces possible.