The much anticipated feature film about the heroic Tuskegee Airmen has finally hit the big screen. What was intended to be the equivalent to a patriotic John Wayne war flick with Black heroes has turned into a raging controversy of whose vision/version is correct and the Internet is the battlefield.
‘RED TAILS’ CAST
In the weeks leading up to the films release there were mass marketing appeals on network and cable TV, much of it targeting African-Americans, to support “Red Tails” by filmmaker George Lucas (of “Star Wars” fame). Intrigued and inspired by hearing about the exploits and gallantry of the underdog Tuskegee Airmen, who defied conventional (i.e. White supremacist) logic and proved themselves to be worthy warriors more than capable of helping to defend the free world from the Axis powers, Lucas thought that he could make a movie about it.
That was when Lucas found out about the America many of us (including the men Lucas wanted to pay homage to) know all too well…Hollywood wasn’t interested in a film with an ensemble cast of Black men portraying real life American heros with a director and scriptwriter. Fortunately, the force was with Lucas—to the tune of $93 million of his own money, he is the force—and despite the lack of studio support for a budget or marketing Lucas put together an old school Saturday matinee, grab-the-popcorn-and-raisinets action war flick with slick aerial dogfights, lots of explosions, special effects and plenty of honor and valor with none of the coonery and buffoonery (or Madea) that some think is necessary to get the Black masses to the cinema.
To be sure, the critics and haters are having a field day saying the plot is flimsy and there are no Black women and that the film downplays the extent of racism the airmen endured while fighting overseas in a White man’s war to maintain a freedom they had yet to enjoy at home.
People, chill out—this is a movie, not a documentary. This is entertainment, not history. Lucas should not be held to any higher a standard than the filmmakers of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s who produced movies of World War II devoid of Black participation. Remember “Saving Private Ryan”—hello?
Lucas’ “Red Tails” uses composites to tell the story of the Black pilots of the experimental Tuskegee training program courageously waging two wars at once— one against enemies overseas, and the other against discrimination within the military. Racial prejudices long held ace airman Martin “Easy” Julian (Nate Parker) and his squadron back at base—leaving them with little to do but further hone their flying skills—while their White counterparts are shipped out to combat after a mere three months of training.
Deemed inferior and assigned only second-rate planes and missions, the pilots of Tuskegee had mastered the skies with ease but had not been granted the opportunity to truly spread their wings until their immediate commanding officer, Colonel A.J. Bullard (Terence Howard) issues an ultimatum to his superiors—either put them in combat to prove their mettle or disband them. Of course, we now know the rest is history.
“Red Tails” may not be 100-percent authentic, and it does gloss over the extreme racism that was part of the military culture before President Harry Truman desegregated the armed forces after World War II (due in no small part to the exemplary service of the Tuskegee Airmen and their counterparts in the other branches of the military and pressure from the Black press) but it is something to cheer about. The ensemble cast that depicts these flying warriors and their ground crew bring a proud, understated dignity and humanity to the screen that befit the veterans whose story they portray. The audience should expect no less or no more.
The surviving Tuskegee Airmen are finally receiving some measure of the long-overdue acknowledgement and appreciation for their sacrifice to this nation in the face of discrimination, segregation and at times outright contempt after returning home from the front lines across the globe. Hard-won medals on their uniforms did not protect them from lynching once they returned home from war.
For those who want to split hairs about the accuracy of Red Tails—do the research. Hopefully this movie will encourage young people (especially young Black males) to learn more about the Tuskegee Airmen, emulate them and aspire to live their own dreams in the face of haters and naysayers. For everyone else, get your drink, popcorn and raisinets and settle into your seat for a few hours of bad guys and good guys, good against evil, and be prepared to leave a winner.
Leading the cast are: Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrence Howard, David Oyelowo and Bryan Cranston.