'Overlord' Spoilers: How a Huge Historical Inaccuracy Improves World War II
“We’re not trying to make a historical movie," the film's star tells Inverse.
Overlord isn’t exactly a historical depiction of World War II, and not just because of the Nazi zombies.
*Light spoilers for Overlord follow.
The U.S. military wasn’t desegregated until President Truman signed an executive order on July 26, 1948. So when black soldiers fight alongside white soldiers in Overlord on the eve of D-Day — June 6, 1944 — it’s an idealized representation of what the military structure looked like at that time. And in a recent interview, Overlord star Jovan Adepo explains to Inverse that the movie’s decision to ignore segregation was in the service of something arguably more important than historical accuracy: entertainment.
“We’re not trying to make a historical movie,” Adepo says. “I think that we wanted to make very clear that this moment in time is almost like an alternate universe that is very much an action-adventure set during World War II.”
This pivot away from historical accuracy only reinforces the idea that Overlord takes place in an alternate universe. After all, this is a world where a Nazi scientist uses weird goop found underneath a French village to craft a supersoldier zombie serum. So a desegrated military three years too early isn’t the strangest thing going on.
“Casting was less about race and more about who has those characteristics that help put together the strongest cast possible,” Adepo says.
On the other hand, Overlord also downplays the racism that drove the Nazi’s political agenda, essentially brushing that away alongside segregation for the sake of a high-energy action movie.
“The movie just so happened to fall into this category of race-neutral and not necessarily for the sake of just being inclusive,” Adepo says. “It was just like, we have a great story and we want to fill the roles well. If it just so happens to be inclusive, fine. They weren’t doing that as some sort of deliberate prop or trick. That was never in the conversation. I actually really appreciated that.”
Adepo’s Private Boyce grew up in Louisiana and learned the specific dialect of French that comes from that region, and he’s easily able to converse in French with Mathilde Ollivier’s Chloe. The role could easily be played by a white man, but Adepo was cast because he perfectly captures the kind of personality Overlord needed for its Boyce.
Private Boyce isn’t the only character in Overlord whose backstory is refreshingly race-neutral. In fact, the blackness or whiteness of almost every character remains inconsequential to the broader story.
“There are other characters in our unit too that just so happen to be black,” Adepo says. “It just was what it was.”
Boyce’s commander at the start of the film is black, as is a friend in their squad who’s writing a novel about their experiences in the war. The squad’s demolitions expert, sharpshooter, and photographer are all white. But each character’s race doesn’t matter, and the brotherhood they all share transcends any kind of racial divide.
When it comes to fantastical depictions of war, this is increasingly becoming the norm. In the video game Battlefield V, male and female and white and black soldiers all fight together in a version World War II. When fans complained, EA chief creative officer Patrick Söderlund bluntly responded: “Either accept it or don’t buy the game.”
Rather than lean into stereotypes or depict racism for the sake of historical accuracy, Overlord instead seizes upon the opportunity to create a better version of history— at least until you get to the Nazi zombies part.
Overlord is in theaters now.