Will Red Tails Bring Red or Green to George Lucas?
Would you spend 23 years working on a project with no guarantees it will ever come to fruition? That is what George Lucas did with his latest release, Red Tails.
Red Tails is about the Tuskegee airmen in World War II who flew planes distinguished by their red tails. It is a movie with an all black cast with a few exceptions and is today’s Top Gun. It was an expensive movie to make with elaborate aerial scenes and that is the reason major studios refused to pick it up. They felt they would not make enough green stuff to offset the expense of the movie. Even smaller distributors, who normally back black films, wouldn’t support it because they felt it would not have enough world-wide appeal.
However, George Lucas felt so dedicated to the Tuskegee airmen’s story that he backed it with his own money. It is a story of patriotism and racism—a story of pride and prejudice. Few people have even heard of the Tuskegee airmen even though they were one of the most successful units in WWII. They successfully completed their mission to bring home alive their charges, those flying the bombers over Sicily and Italy. They were kept out of the action during a good part of the war because no one felt Negros would make capable pilots. They were assigned menial surveillance and escort duties far behind the battle front.
The heavy and clumsy bombers were being blasted out of the air, almost at will, because they had no means of protecting themselves. Those who were assigned to protect them were often off making aces of themselves, leaving the bombers unprotected. When the Red Tails (named after the distinctive red tails of their planes) first showed up on the scene the bomber pilots felt they were, once again, at the mercy of the Gerrys (or Germans). It is a sad but true scene in the movie when the Red Tails pull up alongside the bombers to signal their presence and wave a friendly hello, the bomber crews were shocked to see they were under the protection of Negros! However, it didn’t take long for the Red Tails to prove their worth and win their respect. Ultimately, these flying aces brought home all their charges alive and never lost a bomber. That is a record to be proud of.
The movie has received praise for the aerial scenes and criticism for the story and dialog. George Lucas explained in an interview with Jon Stewart he was trying to capture the feel of the 1940s which was characterized with patriotic jingles. In the same interview Lucas said he made the movie to provide hero models for teenage boys.
Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr. make a good team as the leaders of the squadron. Terrence Howard has the right amount of egotistical savvy to make his character believable. In the movie he says he has been accused of being cocky and he is proud of that. It took someone with a strong sense of self to achieve what he did. Cuba Gooding Jr. is another strong character with the right amount of reverence for his commanding officer. The other characters weren’t as strong and I felt at times they lapsed into stereotypes.
This is a movie definitely worth seeing. It shows us the pain of prejudice and segregation. If it had not been for the determination and stubborn persistence of the Tuskegee airmen, the outcome of the war could have been different. Thank God we did not let prejudice dictate protocol during the war. What we see in Red Tails is only a small part of the story of the Tuskegee airmen and Lucas says he has a prequel and sequel planned if this movie is successful. We know that when they returned to the states it was a difficult adjustment for everyone. They went from the freedom of flying the skies to forced segregation of colored restrooms and drinking fountains. I can only imagine how Lucas will handle that.
I urge everyone to support Lucas in his bold endeavor. The Tuskegee airmen and their Red Tails is a story destined to become part of the fabric of our national pride. I give the movie a B.
- 3 Women ‘Red Tails’ Left Out (theroot.com)
- Movie Red Tails Takes Number 2 Spot in Box Office (sweetspill.com)
- Famed Tuskegee Airmen Getting Big-Screen Treatment (fox4kc.com)