You will be redirected back to your article in seconds
Back to IndieWire

Will Smith, Sony To Adapt Graphic Novel ‘The Harlem Hellfighters’ (On 369th Infantry Regiment)

Will Smith, Sony To Adapt Graphic Novel 'The Harlem Hellfighters' (On 369th Infantry Regiment)

Will Smith via his production company Overbrook Entertainment, along with partner James Lassiter, will produce an adaptation of the upcoming graphic novel, The Harlem Hellfighters by Max Brooks, which Sony Pictures picked up the rights to.

The graphic novel, which won’t be available for sale until April 1, 2014, is an interpretation of the real-life story of the 369th Infantry Regiment of the United States Army that saw action in World War I and World War II. The 369th Infantry is known for being the first African American regiment to serve with the American Expeditionary Force during World War I and was nicknamed “The Harlem Hellfighters” (hence the title of the graphic novel), as well as the “Black Rattlers,” in addition to several other nicknames.

The graphic novel was illustrated by Caanan White.

The story chronicles their journey from enlistment in Harlem, to training camp at Spartanburg, South Carolina, to the trenches in France, only to return home to the USA, heroes, but back to still facing discrimination.

Films like Red Tails aside, the contributions of African Americans to USA war efforts during the early half of the 20th century remain woefully under-explored on film and TV. This is an appreciated move by Will Smith and company.

It’s worth noting that the author of the graphic novel, Max Brooks, also wrote World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, which was adapted to film last year, with Brad Pitt starring, and a sequel in development. 

No word on whether Will Smith plans to star in the adaptation, or if he’s only producing.

You can preorder a copy of the novel now via Amazon HERE.

This Article is related to: News and tagged


SK Trynosky Sr.

Finally, it is about time!

I had the honor and privilege of having my battalion HQ located at the 369th Armory in the 1970's and did a few social functions like the MLK day parade with the 369th. Got to meet and shake hands with a bunch of these gentlemen from the 1st World War. I researched the unit history and was amazed by what they did. I also was incredibly proud of New York and how the State and Governor stood behind the unit. At the conclusion of the social functions these old guys, only in their 70's and eighties then, would link arms and sing "My Buddy". It still brings a tear to my eye. Hope they do right by this movie.


Okay, I'll say it, whats-up with the European looking *coughHarlemcaugh* Hellfighters? Damn, looking at that poster I immediately thought of The Five Heartbeats… know what I mean? Sure you do, don't front, no one can see your face saying "here we go again, another act/form of black exploitation 101 to fill the pockets of the rich guys. Come on now, I am referring to the scene in the film where The Heartbeats see a new album of theirs have the picture of a white family at the beach instead of themselves on the cover. HEY… whats-up with that poster?

There's no way a "book" by Chester Himes would have white folks masquerading as Harlemites. Hell, in his own words: "Up to the age of thirty-one I had been hurt emotionally, spiritually and physically as much as thirty-one years can bear. I had lived in the South, I had fallen down an elevator shaft, I had been kicked out of college, I had served seven and one half years in prison, I had survived the humiliating last five years of Depression in Cleveland; and still I was entire, complete, functional; my mind was sharp, my reflexes were good, and I was not bitter. But under the mental corrosion of race prejudice in Los Angeles I became bitter and saturated with hate"

And that was after a brief career as a screenwriter for Warner Brothers, terminated when Jack Warner heard about him and said "I don't want no ni**ers on this lot."

So, one more time – whatsup with that poster… or am I seeing what's not there?

jerry hester

The United States World War I Centennial Commemoration Commission is considering a major project to this unit by re-creating & featuring the Lt. James Europe Band which is touted as one of the most popular projects that can been done by the US during 2017-2018 both here and in Europe as the jazz era was ushered in by this Band. If any movie or mini-TV series is produced this re-created Band would be the most publicized part of the openings which should be like "Band of Brothers" wherein the characters are identified and you live with them through their experiences, not a full length movie. I would like to have contact with the principals in Overbrook Entertainment, James Lassiter or Will Smith to assist wherein possible. French language version needs to be planned.

Jerry L. Hester,
World War I Centennial Commissioner


Great history. Hope it stays true to history and include:

In 1917 Rafael met the renowned African American bandleader James Reese Europe. In 1910 Europe founded an orchestra of over 100 musicians, and the following year it was the first Black group to play Carnegie Hall. As the U.S. was about to enter World War I, Lt. Europe was asked to organize an African American military band and fighting unit for the segregated army. To complete the band he wanted horn players who could read music so he traveled to the island and recruited 18 Afro Puerto Ricans from the island’s municipal bands. The fact that Puerto Ricans had recently received U.S. citizenship facilitated the recruitment of Puerto Ricans into the military and thus into the orchestra. Rafael Hernández was recruited into Europe’s 369th Regiment band as a trombone player and became a sergeant during World War I. Other musicians who were recruited from Puerto Rico included Rafael Duchesne Mondríguez from Fajardo, who played first clarinet, and Rafael Hernández's brother Jesús. Hernández and the others went to North Carolina for basic training. Europe’s 369th Regiment, which became known as the “Hellfighters,” was considered to have introduced jazz to the European continent. They gained the nickname during their tour of duty for their bravery on the battlefield. After the war the 369th U.S. Infantry band began recording for the Pathé label and toured briefly until James Reese Europe was tragically murdered after a concert by his drummer. The group disbanded and the musicians had to strike out on their own.

Most mainstream histories on the topic of the Harlem Hellfighters tend to downplay or barely mention the role of the Puerto Rican musicians that were involved in the 369th Regiment during World War I. The ten-part jazz history made by Ken Burns is no exception. In fact in his documentary there is no mention at all that James Reese Europe recruited experienced musicians from the island. This may reflect a larger societal problem in that most issues in that U.S. are dealt with through the perspective of race in Black and White only, without taking into account the complexity which defies easy explanations.


Max Brooks knows his military history and he is an excellent writer. Overbrook has a solid foundation upon which to build and I hope they do the 369th Infantry an even better solid.


This is a good start. Do not forget the Ladies of the 6888th Central Postal Battalion


I have a Great Uncle who was in the 369th. I'd rather see this as an HBO miniseries like Band of Brothers which would allow enough time for recruiting, training(always under the threat of lynching), combat, and then the fact they brought jazz to Europe. We are coming up on the WWI centennial so this is a nice way to kick that off in the states but I have this nagging fear of a Red Tails like script.


    As a Canadian, I’ll be the first to admit I was unaware of this particular unit and the soldiers who served with distinction in France. I have just finished reading “A More Unbending Battle by Peter Nelson. As a Afghanistan veteran and decendent of men who served and died in both world wars, I can appreciate what the men of the 369th experienced and accomplished a century ago. I too share the conviction of, Josh, above that their take deserves a proper effort. It saddens me as a military professional to know these men were treated so egregiuosly by their fellow citizens and soldiers because of the colour of their skin. My the scales of Justice be somewhat balanced by Mr. smith. I look forward to seeing the story of the Harlem Hellfighters one day.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *