It is extremely important for a society to remember its past on its way towards its future. One of the major reasons for that is to correct what was wrong and celebrate what was right. Red Tails is Executive Producer George Lucas’s tale of The Tuskegee Airmen, our country’s first group of African American fighter pilots who tore through the color barrier during WW II.
The major question going into this movie is this: Can the creation survive its creator? Can the man who has disenfranchised an entire generation bring a new generation to the theaters to learn about an important part of our history? The answer is yes it can and yes, he will.
This is mainly due to the strong performance of the cast which included Hollywood heavyweights Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr. who played the leaders of the all African American pilot troop. Col. A.J. Bullard (Howard) spent most of his time in Washington fighting the racist bureaucracy to let his men get into some action so they could show what they could do. He had some very impactful lines and delivered them with excellence. During one confrontation with a white “superior” officer Bullard was told to have respect for the uniform to which he replied,” Believe me that is ALL I have respect for.” Major Emanuel Stance (Gooding Jr) was with the group the whole time and encouraged them to keep their heads up and to be ready if and when their opportunity to fight would come.
Captain Martin “Easy” Julian (Nate Parker) was the group leader who happened to always carry a flask on him and wasn’t afraid to take a sip or two, even before missions. This caused tension between Julian and his best friend and Ace pilot Joe “Lightening” Little. Joe was the best pilot but he was a maverick and seemed to take too many chances. It was very interesting to see if/how their issues out of the plane would affect their performances in the plane. Tristan Wilds (Ray “Ray Gun” Gannon), Ne-Yo (Andrew “Smoky” Salem) and Marcus T. Paulk (David “Deke” Watkins) give tremendous performances as well, adding much depth of character to the group of pilots who all they wanted to do was fight for their country.
Why were they not allowed to fight for their country? Because the military did a study and concluded that African Americans lacked the intelligence to be pilots. Racism was extremely prevalent in the 1940’s and the military was no different. This is offensive and upsetting but that is exactly why this story needs to be told, so people, ESPECIALLY young people know where this country was racially, how far it has come and honestly still as far as it needs to go.
Does Lucas try to ruin it with cheesy dialogue, sometimes even dialogue that doesn’t seem to fit the time period we are in? Yes. Does he include a completely unrealistic love affair between pilot Joe “Lightening” Little, who speaks no Italian and Sophia (Daniela Ruah), an Italian woman whose house Joe flies over who speaks no English? Yes. Are the aerial scenes unrealistic and set up to where basically only super human pilots could navigate through them? Yes. Is Cuba Gooding Jr. chomping on a ceramic pipe seemingly every single second he is on camera? Yes.
Does any of that ruin the film? NO it doesn’t. The fact is, George Lucas put this film together and actually financed the entire project himself (to the tune of approximately $100 Million). Why? According to Lucas no studio would touch the film with an all black cast. Well shame on Hollywood and I honestly can’t believe I am saying this but yay for Lucas.
Despite the Lucas-fication of the film, Red Tails is exciting and well acted and its strengths far outweigh its weaknesses. Besides, if nothing else it tells a story that has historically been under-told (There was a 1995 HBO film) and is important for people to see. The men fought through infuriating racism from the very people they were trying to fight with and for and showed the entire country what men, specifically and especially African American men are capable of.
It is great to see that although my childhood is obviously not, some things are still sacred to George Lucas and I’m glad that his desire and commitment to getting this movie made was. I’d give the film 3.5/5 Stars but would also label the film a must see. Red Tails will entertain and educate you and it might even motivate you to go find a Tuskegee Airman and thank him for his bravery, courage, skill and character, all of which helped protect this country’s freedom and also which helped to make it so great.