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ROME (Reuters) - Film director Spike Lee has set off a storm in Italy with a movie about black American soldiers fighting alongside Italian partisans in World War Two.
Surviving members of the resistance to the Nazi occupation of Italy have taken issue with "Miracle at St. Anna" ahead of the film's Italian release on Friday, distributing protest flyers and accusing Lee of distorting history.
Lee has said he wanted to set the record straight about the role played by black U.S. soldiers in the war. The film is based on a novel by James McBride and focuses on the all-black 92nd Buffalo Division which helped liberate Italy in 1944-45.
At the heart of the dispute is the film's depiction of an infamous 1944 massacre in the Tuscan town of Sant'Anna di Stazzema, where Nazi troops rounded up and killed 560 civilians.
In the film, the massacre is portrayed as a response to the actions of resistance fighters, with one of them betraying the town and colluding with the Nazis -- a version of events that has angered surviving partisans.
Lee, who is in Italy promoting the film, has responded to the criticism in his characteristically feisty manner.
"I would not allow anybody to tell me how to make a film, be it a partisan or the president of the United States," Lee told a news conference in Florence on Wednesday after a preview screening, according to Italian media.
"This simply shows that in Italy the wound is still open. ... It is up to Italians to come to grips with their past, not up to me or James McBride or the film," he said.
Members of the ANPI association of resistance fighters were not amused.
"For Spike Lee the partisans who 'hit and then ran away' were responsible for the Sant'Anna di Stazzema massacre," ANPI said on its website.
"Before shooting his film, the director should have read the truth about that horrible slaughter," it said, posting a copy of the 2005 verdict of an Italian military tribunal which convicted 10 ex-Nazi officers for the murders.
Reporting by Silvia Aloisi