Four days ago Tatiana mentioned something that sounded like “lion”…something that had arrested her attention and that she might want to watch or read or listen to. Tatiana doesn’t always pronounce the full title of a movie or song or TV show so I had to be careful. I always get yelled at if I misunderstand her so right away I was concerned. Actually I was sweating bullets. If I was Tatiana’s employee at a Russian marketing firm she would probably fire me in less than 72 hours, and certainly within a week.

I suspected she might not have said the word “lion” but possibly “lyin'”…so great was my terror that I dared not speculate. Maybe, I told myself, she’d heard Roy Orbison‘s “Cryin'” and wanted to add it to her iPhone music library.

I summoned all my courage and asked her to clarify, and this time she used the word “Ryan.” Great, I told myself — we’re getting somewhere! I calculated that she probably wasn’t alluding to Rian Johnson or Ryan Reynolds or Robert Ryan or Ryan O’Neal….which Ryan? Then she said something about watching “Ryan” later that evening. I won’t bore you with further particulars but she finally communicated (or Jeff the Stupid Oaf finally understood) that she needed to watch Saving Private Ryan for her film class. So we did.

The following day I posted “Fragging Corporal Upham.”

Last evening Tatiana was taking part in a Zoom discussion of Steven Spielberg’s 1998 war film with her instructor and fellow students, most in their early 20s. Early on a young African-American woman had a question or more precisely a complaint: why did the film not include any African-American soldiers, even in the background? She said she’d understand an all-white cast if Ryan had been made in 1945 or thereabouts, but it’s only 22 and 1/2 years old so she didn’t get Spielberg’s attitude.

The instructor acknowledged her concern and decided against mentioning that aside from troops of color being sent in as replacements during the Battle of the Bulge, U.S. troops were largely segregated during WWII, certainly when it came to infantry combat troops. He knew that wouldn’t fly.

What the student meant was, “I don’t care about the actual WWII history and segregationist policies…what I don’t understand is why Steven Spielberg didn’t cast Saving Private Ryan according to the common practice of presentism — i.e., ‘uncritical adherence to present-day attitudes, especially the tendency to interpret past events in terms of modern values and concepts'”?

In other words, we’re all accustomed to the presentism of Bridgerton, Jodie Turner Smith playing Anne Boleyn and African and Asian actors filling costarring roles in Mary, Queen of Scots. So why wasn’t the socially concerned Spielberg on this train back in the late ’90s?