Friday, January 20, 2012
Giving Heroes Their Just Due in "Red Tails"
Black Flying Heroes Known by Their “Red Tails”
By Skip Sheffield
Most Americans have not heard of the Tuskegee Airmen. Perhaps “Red Tails” will correct that oversight and add some real-life black heroes for African-American children.
Founded, in 1881, Tuskegee Institute is a historically black university in Alabama where some of the most celebrated African-American scholars have studied and taught. When the United States entered World War II, Tuskegee Institute recruited a group of young men to be trained as combat pilots. The men were duly trained, but there was a major problem: the U.S. Armed Forces were segregated. Furthermore, a now-discredited Army study in 1925 alleged that blacks were mentally inferior and unable to cope with complicated machinery such as airplanes.
The Tuskegee Airmen, formally known as the 332nd Fighter Group, were deployed to Europe, but as of 1944 they had not seen actual combat. They were equipped with well-worn, obsolete P-40 fighter planes and had to be content with just doing practice drills.
A long-gestating project by George Lucas, “Red Tails” recounts the turning point, when not only did the Tuskegee Airmen prove themselves; they performed above and beyond the call of duty.
Lucas had a challenge financing the project because its principal cast is all African-American. The two box office names are Terrence Howard as Col. A.J. Bullard and Cuba Gooding, Jr. as Major Emmanuelle Stance.
The year is 1944 in Sicily, Italy. Back in Washington, Col. Bullard is pleading the case for his men. Finally the Tuskegee Airmen are given a chance to prove themselves in the extremely dangerous assignment of providing escorts for bombers.
“Red Tails” is an old-fashioned film that is a lot like any other war movie. The difference is the race of the characters and the additional obstacles they must overcome.
There is the hard-drinking squadron leader Marty “Easy” Julian (Nate Parker); fearless flying ace Joe “Lightning” Little (David Oyelowo); runty Ray “Junior” Gannon and flippant Samuel “Joker” George (Elijah Kelly), under the command of taciturn, pipe-smoking Maj. Stance (Gooding).
Director Anthony Hemingway and screen writer John Ridley show us pointed examples of discrimination and bigotry, but they also show the grudging, growing admiration of white bomber pilots, who came to specifically request the brave pilots of the 322nd as escorts.
The computer-enhanced air battles are much more convincing than war films of yore. There is even a token romance between Lightning Joe (Oyelowo) and Sofia (Daniela Rush) a beautiful Italian woman.
“Red Tails” is a bit corny, clichéd and rah-rah, but in a good way that makes anyone, black or white, proud to be an American