With one of the strongest African-American casts in a major production film, the movie “Red Tails” tells the story of the famed 332d Fighter Group, more commonly known as the Tuskegee Airmen.
The film features famous actors such as Cuba Gooding Jr. and Terrence Howard as well as rappers Method Man and Ne-Yo. According to the AP, George Lucas finally produced the movie after 23 years of waiting due to lack of funding from studios because of studios’ hesitation to have a main cast of all African-American members.
In fact, Lucas said in an interview with Jon Stewart that this was “one of the first all-black action movies ever made.”
Active duty members of the Air Force and cadets of Air Force ROTC previewed the movie as part of the non-business festivities of the Air Force’s Air Education and Training Command’s annual symposium in San Antonio last week. Actor Nate Parker and Leon A. Johnson, president of Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., attended the screening to promote the film. The movie debuts today in theaters everywhere.
Although this groundbreaking movie shows a glimpse of the inequality in the American armed forces during World War II, the story of the Red Tails does not give the whole history of the Tuskegee Airmen, nor does this must-see, potential “movie of the year” candidate give the group justice for the efforts made to the war and to society. This movie will be ranked at the top of a long list of military and aviation films, such as “Top Gun” and “Black Hawk Down.”
The movie could also be considered one of the best blaxploitation films of all time.
This story starts while the group is in Italy in 1944. At that time, the group flew outdated P-40 Warhawks and flew non-aerial combative sorties (missions), such as destroying German trucks and trains to slow the supply line. The group’s commander, played by Terrence Howard, convinced staff at the Pentagon to let his members fly aerial combat sorties in newer aircraft, while the group’s vice commander, played by Cuba Gooding Jr., stayed behind to run the group. Although Howard and Gooding are the biggest names in the movie, their roles, surprisingly, have more of a support role in this film, though they are the group’s formal leadership. The film’s main actors are the pilots, especially Martin “Easy” Julian, played by Nate Parker, and Joe “Lightning” Little, played by David Oyelowo, and the plot follows their occasional struggles as friends and flightmates.
The Red Tails eventually receive their new P-51 Mustangs, though the film skips over the fact the group flew the P-47 Thunderbolt in 1944 before they flew the Mustang. Having a newer aircraft, a greater sense of unit morale could be felt. The pilots and air crew within the group, already being like a close-knit family, began to get even closer while their work in the air became more contributory to the war effort, especially compared to the missions they performed in the past.
The movie does offer something to any movie watcher’s taste buds, from a simple love story of “Lightning” falling for a local Italian woman to how the airmen dealt with the hardships they faced in regard to their race. The movie at times showed the airmen using sarcastic approaches to deal with their problems of inequality with their peers, though the group’s outstanding flying reputation during escort missions soon changed how they were perceived. The Red Tails were historically persistent in staying with the bombers they escorted and in helping shoot down German fighters, which gave them the respect they needed and deserved as American pilots. This sense of respect was captured at the end of the movie with the unit being awarded Distinguished Unit Citations.
H.D. Woodruff III is an aerospace studies major from Houston.