I am not a fan of George Lucas’ patronizing scare tactic to mobilize Blacks to see his new movie, Red Tails. It is reported that he financed the movie with his own money, which is commendable, but his white maleness complicates the situation. I often wonder why the black director or the black cast members are not receiving as much attention as Lucas. Additionally, the threat that Hollywood would not make another movie with a predominantly Black cast if people did not support the film should not be the only impetus for people to go and see it. People should go and see it to learn about our country’s real and often concealed bigoted history, and more importantly about the bravery of our country’s first Black pilots in the armed forces. To clarify, I am not disagreeing with Lucas’ assertion about Hollywood and their lack of interest in Black (or other) movies and experiences; I am discouraged that this argument has overshadowed the true stars of this historical movie, the Tuskegee Airmen. And honestly, Hollywood has never truly catered to the Black community, aside from that rash of movies in the 70s with Black Exploitation, and in the late 90s and early 00s. And let me not start with Black actors and the roles they receive and earn. Regardless, this paragraph illustrates that race in America is still a hot topic, no matter how much the media promotes this propaganda of a post-racial America.
On various email threads, my Black friends and I argued whether or not we should go and see the movie, given all the negative reviews. All were in argument that we had to buy tickets to support Red Tails, and a few even proposed that they would buy a ticket and then sneak into a movie that they wanted to see more. Yep, those are my friends.
On another more important note, the movie is a solid portrayal of the Red Tails. Unfortunately, there is very little historical explanation about the Tuskegee experiment, but one gets the gist that many (White) leading officers in the army disapproved of integrating the army, aside from the kitchen staff and maintenance crew. Thus, the existence of a Black pilot brigade ruffled many feathers. The two main pilots, Easy and Lightening, are both compelling for various reasons. Easy is the do-everything-by-the-book type who suffers from his own demons, which he soothes with a constant relationship with alcohol. Lightening, on the other hand, is led by his instincts, which are often right, but are simultaneously dangerous. He is the quintessential risk taker: high risk, high rewards. They are flanked by the over religious type, aptly nicknamed Deacon, the funny one, known as Joker, the young and ambitious one, called Junior, an insightful thinker, named Winky, and a musically inclined pilot, played by Ne-Yo, called Smokey. Terrence Howard plays Colonel Buford whose speaking parts are all speeches about race and courage, which are captivating though they feel trite. Cuba Gooding Jr. plays the smoke pipe holding, Radio-esque Major, who does little more than smile and cheer his pilots along.
The dialogue unfortunately dooms the enjoyability of this movie. Surprisingly, the satirical and comedic creator of the Boondocks, Aaron McGruder is credited as one of the screenwriters, but it is difficult to spot his touch and influence. Also, there is a forced love story that hurts when viewed on the big screen. In fact, I could feel the collective groan from the audience each time love became the film’s primary focus. Lastly, the ending of the movie is not satisfying, in part because the different story lines are quickly tied up with very little conclusion. The overall direction of the movie seems lost in a purgatory state between a Disney-esque or drama infused retelling of this special moment in history. There is a power and maybe monetary struggle as to who the main audience will be: families with their young and impressionable children or adults who crave escapism in the characters. The writers strive for this murky middle ground, which ultimately fails.
On a positive note, there is a scene in a White’s only officers’ club in which the Red Tails are welcomed and accepted, only after they prove their mettle. The scene demonstrates that unity and camaraderie are more than possible. It also serves to dispel many of the myths and stereotypes that lingered (and still do linger) about the intelligence and integrity of Blacks.
Long story short, this movie is not a must see, but it is solid. I would recommend that you see it, if you are looking to have a decent time at the movies. You will enjoy it though the feeling will be fleeting. Since I am a teacher, I will give it a B-; solid effort with room for amble improvement with a rewrite. Sadly, with movies, they function as first impressions: you only get one chance. Though the audience applauded at the end, their cheers were more so for the historical significance of the Red Tails than the actually movie depiction.