Max Brooks Q&A: See how 'The Harlem Hellfighters' earned their name

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After years of rejection by studios, your story is now in development at Sony. Was it just a matter of having something tangible to hand someone, or did 12 Years a Slave perhaps represent some shift in Hollywood?
It’s funny you ask that, because I get asked that all the time about zombies. Like, when I wrote Zombie Survival Guide, nobody was writing about zombies and now zombies are everywhere and why is that? I don’t know. Maybe it was a combination. Maybe it’s a combination of The Butler, 42, and 12 Years a Slave. Maybe the Trayvon Martin case has brought racism back into the forefront. Maybe there’s just so many times you can call the president of the United States a subhuman mongrel before people get angry. I mean, Ted Nugent just called President Obama a subhuman mongrel. He’s talking about race mixing. Race mixing, we have to remember, used to be a hanging offense in this country. On racism, I think we’ve made unbelievable strides, obviously. But clearly, as Ted Nugent reminds us, we still have a ways to go.

With Will Smith involved, I’m encouraged that your movie will receive a budget that will bring this war and these characters to life in a credible way. Because there’s not a great Hollywood tradition of WWI movies.
You can see why it’s easier to make WWII stories. It’s victorious Americans raising the flag over Iwo Jima or storming Normandy Beach. Whereas WWI, you’re just sitting in a trench, and it’s very bloody and brutal and at the end of the day, what the hell is it all for? And I think that’s one reason that it’s not a very popular war. It doesn’t make for good stories and it’s not as clean a narrative. But the truth is, WWII wouldn’t have happened had there not been a WWI. The seeds of WWII happened in the first one.

I know there are smarter people than I already working on this, but I have two words and a letter for you to pass along to the folks casting the lead role of Mark: Michael B. Jordan.
Oh my God, wouldn’t he be amazing? I always love ensemble casts. Like, I loved a movie like The Longest Day, where it’s like, “Oh, I know that guy. Oh, and another guy.” I shouldn’t be optimistic and dare to dream because then that’s the quote they use when the project gets canceled. But in a perfect world, I would love to see an ensemble cast of the great African-American talent that we have, because this country has a galaxy of brilliant African-American actors and who wouldn’t want to see all of them in it, even if it’s for like one line or one scene. Wouldn’t that be amazing?

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