The Washington Post

PBS’s ‘Rebel’ is lovely but flawed

“Rebel,”an artful but controversial documentary on Confederate soldier and Union spy Loreta Janeta Velazquez, will premiere at 9 p.m. Tuesday, on Maryland PTV. It is based  on her 1876 memoir, “A Woman in Battle,” where the Cuban woman writes about disguising herself as a Confederate solider and fighting in the battles of Manassas, Ball’s Bluff, Shiloh and at the siege of Fort Donaldson.She later became a Union spy and a blockade runner.

PBS, in a news release asks, “And what made her so dangerous that she has been virtually erased from history?” It may be because, Velazquez, as she appears in the film, is not very credible.

In the documentary, camp life for her was a solitary affair where she slept apart from the other soldiers under a clean blanket and emerged from bed in strikingly clean clothes. She bought a slave named “Bob” whom she armed and turned into a protector and fellow soldier. There is no indication that this upset those battle hardened soldiers in her unit who are fighting for the Confederacy and a way of life that included slavery.

Newly found documents at the National Archives are cited in the news release as “proving she did indeed exist,” but not that she was ever a soldier in the field. The files speak to her work as a Union spy.

The film is a beauty, with exquisite clothing and subtle colors. Many of the battle scenes were shot at the locations where they took place. The accompanying music works perfectly with the images. And there is the usual assortment of historians and experts speaking about the times and the role women were expected to play.

No doubt there were women who fought as soldiers in the Union and the Confederacy. There also should be little doubt that Velasquez existed. As to this special presentation of the Latino Public Broadcasting series “Voices on PBS,” decide for yourself if Velazquez really was who she says she was.







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