LOS ANGELES, July 24 (UPI) -- Miramax Pictures is defending the use of "Buffalo Soldiers" as the name of a new movie, following criticism by some black leaders that associating the term with a movie about corrupt U.S. soldiers during the Cold War defiles the memory of a historic and highly decorated group of black soldiers.
The studio will not change the name of the movie, despite demands by Project 21 -- an organization that promotes black leadership -- that it come up with another title.
The movie -- starring Joaquin Phoenix -- is scheduled to arrive in theaters this Friday. Based on the novel of the same name by Robert O'Connor, "Buffalo Soldiers" is billed as a dark comedy that depicts U.S. Army soldiers stationed in Germany in the 1980s as drug abusers, smugglers and racial bigots.
"Buffalo Soldiers" was the name given to the 9th and 10th Cavalries, famous as the nation's first peacetime regiments made up of black soldiers. Michael King, a member of Project 21, told United Press International that the use of the name for the movie was racially insensitive.
"When the name Buffalo Soldiers is uttered, the only thought that anyone has is of those brave men who fought valiantly for all of the people of the United States," said King. "For Miramax ... to insult those men and women with this movie title is simply reprehensible."
Matthew Hiltzik, a spokesman for Miramax, told UPI "Buffalo Soldiers" is not intended to reflect on any group of soldiers except the ones specifically depicted in the book and the movie.
"This is not meant to disrespect the men in the military who have served our country," said Hiltzik. "This is a thought-provoking film that's set in 1989."
Hiltzik said the movie has generally turned out to be "a lightning rod for strong emotion" on other counts beside the title. For example, Miramax has been taking flak from some who think a movie about amoral soldiers is a slap at servicemen and women currently stationed in Iraq.
"There were those upset with the poster containing a soldier with a peace sign," Hiltzik said. "Some people felt that a peace sign was somehow anti-American. We did not change the poster."
Miramax also fielded complaints about a line of copy in ads for the movie that reads: "Steal all you can steal." That's a play on a U.S. Army recruiting slogan, "Be all that you can be."
The movie has been sitting on the shelf for a long time. It was completed before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but its distribution was delayed as a result of the attacks. Miramax again delayed opening the movie when the U.S. went to war in Iraq.
Hiltzik said "Buffalo Soldiers" is part of a long Hollywood tradition of finding humor in the military "in a sometimes darker, more satirical way."
King said he had no problem with getting laughs out of the military culture. His only problem was the title.
'If you're going to make a modern day 'Catch 22' or 'M*A*S*H' that's fine," said King. "But how about picking a name that's not going to insult people? Or a name that's not going to insult my intelligence."
Miramax has ample experience with releasing controversial films.
Catholic leaders -- who complained about the studio's 1994 drama "Priest" -- are also objecting to the upcoming Miramax release "The Magdalene Sisters," about abuse of young girls at a convent in Ireland.