In The Harlem Hellfighters, World War Z author Max Brooks resurrects the heroics of World War I’s mighty 369th U.S. Army Infantry Regiment. The titular all-black unit faced appalling bigotry: They were forced to train in hostile South Carolina, issued broomsticks instead of guns, and eventually dumped on the depleted French Army because the American Army had no intention of letting them fight side-by-side with white soldiers. Undaunted, they volunteered for the most dangerous assignments and soon became one of the most decorated — and feared — Allied fighting units.
Brooks, the 41-year-old son of Mel Brooks and the late Anne Bancroft, has been ruminating on this story for three decades. When his screenplay was repeatedly rejected, he partnered with artist Caanan White on a graphic novel instead. Less than 48 hours after the finished book made the rounds, Sony picked up the movie rights for producer Will Smith. Brooks dreams of a big-name cast like that of 1962’s WWII classic The Longest Day. But he’s also cautious. “Whether this movie gets made or whether it doesn’t, the book lives,” he says.
Click below for an extended chat with Brooks, as well as art from The Harlem Hellfighters, available April 1: