|Uncle John in Raleigh, NC 1944|
When I heard about a new movie about the Tuskegee Airmen called "Red Tails," I was very excited. I was looking for a movie that would go a few steps further than the 1995 flick ("The Tuskegee Airmen"), staring Lawrence Fishburne. The 1995 movie went into detail about the prejudice the Airmen experienced before the War Department would "allow" them to actually die for their county. I was kinda looking for any slight, minor reference that might hint about a pilot named Chavis. When I heard that George Lucas ("Star Wars") was producing, directing, and funding the "Red Tails" movie, a small "uh oh" went off in my head.
I admit that when I sat down to watch the movie, I was concerned about seeing some 2012 "hip-hoperized" characterization of Black WWII fighter pilots, wearing their pants around their asses, using words like "knowwhatimsaying" and "for shizzle" at every opportunity, and after shooting down an enemy, they'd land, jump out of the cockpit, do a chest bump with their crewman, a flight line "end zone" dance, then look for the sideline camera for a "it's all about me" moment.
I was pleased that I didn't see any of that--not even close. But overall, I was disappointed with the movie. The main subplot was more about a love affair between the squadron's best ace ("Lightning"), and an fairly good looking Italian girl. Not that I had a problem with a Black American airman in 1944 falling for a White woman, but I would have thought SOMEBODY in that small Italian country town might have had a slight problem with it, but no one seemed to object! Less than 2 minutes after introducing himself to the senorita, he's sitting cozy in the front parlor with her and her mother--she with a warm, welcoming "Do you want to marry my daughter?" smile! Not long after they meet (a few "movie" days I assume), Lucas shows the pilot waking up in the morning, half naked in the very same front parlor with his underwear-clad girlfriend.
The only people who seemed to have a race problem were the White bomber pilots and that quickly melted when they saw the courage and skill of their Black fighter escorts. Somewhere in the movie, they mentioned the problem the Pentagon brass had with using Black combat pilots, but that fact was only barely a key subplot. Oh, I forgot there was a part when they showed a P-51 (truly a kick-ass WWII fighter plane with a max speed of 487 mph) outrunning (and shooting down) a German Messerschmidt Me 262 jet (max speed 900 mph). Interesting. The movie's climax shows the squadron replacing their P-40s with P-51s, then going on one of the biggest bomber escorts of the war--they were supposed to escort the bombers half way to the target, when another fight escort group (presumably White) would take over, but that group "didn't show up" so the Tuskegee Airmen finished the mission...but we never found out how that mission ended!
So, there were a lot of these little nits that bugged me throughout the movie. The movie wasn't well acted (many of the lines were corny) and during one battle, I half expected to hear: "Use the Force, Leroy!" They certainly could have better used the talents of Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Terrance Howard. But the biggest problem with the movie occurred within the first 10 seconds when the introductory subtitle read: "Inspired by true events." Inspired by events?? Why not "Based on a true story!?" After stewing on that fact for a few days, it suddenly dawned on me that "Red Tails" was no more about the history of the Tuskegee Airmen than John Wayne's "The Sand of Iwo Jima" was a biography about the U.S. Marine Corps or a historical account of the battle of Iwo Jima.
It was a piece of film fiction--a WWII drama complete with the obligatory sex subplot, the improbable prison escape, personal redemption, and "good" conquering over "evil" (although "justice" seems to have been glossed over). A pure drama. Taken from that perspective, I can appreciate Lucas' effort a little better. The movie wasn't about the Tuskegee Airmen and it wasn't about my Uncle John.