I agree with others that this is nice change of pace. I found interesting that these two films were kind of paired together and they do make for some notable contrasts. Although Zulu is considered as a classic film, especially in the war genre and is pretty much a national treasure in the UK. Black Hawk Down has never really achieved this status although a notable film of the early 2000's and the timing to come out so close to 9.11 is an important factor.
You guys take on Black Hawk down I think in some ways might be best described by Norm "Hoot" Hooten played by Eric Bana, when he says at the end "They won't understand". That is kind how it feels from your description of the film. Not saying someone has to have served in the military or in combat to understand, but maybe it would help somewhat. The film is clearly about the bond among warriors, they have no say in the politics, but as war is an extension of politics they are the ones who have to actually physical execute that extension. When the soldiers are constantly wanting to return to the fight, that is not Hollywood bravado but that is how they are, even if it means a high chance they will not make it out like in the case with the Shugiart and Gordon. Even though the mission did not go as planned when the Black Hawk was shot down,. the dedication to duty and each other saw them through. Still in the end the mission was a success, which even the film really does not really make note of, perhaps in part because the mission was not really important to the story as much as the actions of the men that day . The opening quote in the film from Plato that only the dead escape war really sets the tone of this film. I think only because it came out so close to 9.11 that it became to be viewed differently.
I can see your point that the film does go over the top in the amount of scenes of combat that are depicted. Being a Jerry Brukheimer film who never saw an explosion he did not like, it seems of the 1000 or so Somalis killed all are shown in the film. That being said, I don't see a white washing of that day as was mentioned. Certainly details that were expressed in the book all could not have made it into a 2 hour so film. They show the failure of the plan to deal with the exposure of the black hawks at low altitude, which threw the mission off the rails to begin with. Then the other key factors like navigating the convoy through the city, and the fact that they did not have armor vehicles of their own, that if they had, certainly would have made a difference. Instead as the film does show, them needing to coordinate with the Pakistan UN forces after every thing went south delayed things even further. I am not sure if one could watch the film and think that it did not demonstrate that things did not go as planned. Still, as in real life, the men in the film on the ground are depicted doing their best of the situation.
As for Zulu, it actually was meant to be kind of a British "cowboys and Indians" film. That is how Cy Endfield even described it. The Zulu extras were shown western films to help demonstrate how they wanted them to act. Zulu is an enjoyable film, and one that was certainly designed to play on the hearts of British nationalism. By adding the Zulu salute at the end of the film although it did not happen, it is great for the story telling, but also helps distract the viewer that the British at the time were invading Zulu land. Where as Black Hawk Down, several times makes the point that the US military are the foreigners there. That even if they kill or capture Aideed nothing would change. The real life event at Rorke's Drift had little military impact on the conflict. However, the heroic actions of the defenders allowed the British government to play that up after the disaster at Isandlwanda.
Lastly, the film The Searchers was definitely a film if not speaking out against racism, trying to expose it. I think sometimes if the protagonist of a film is depicted as racist the film can be mistaken as racist.
A films I think of as a pair with Black Hawk Down, in part because they were both released around the same time was We Were Soldiers. That film does try to add flesh to characters, especially in the early part of the film before they are deployed to Vietnam. Also the North Vietnamese troops are not as faceless as the Somalis are in Black Hawk Down. The film seems to go more out of the way to show respect to the enemy in the film and overall is in some ways at least is in style more closely to Zulu in that regard.