Friday, October 14, 2011

Red Tails is the Best Movie About the Tuskegee Airmen Ever Made...

Just got in from a screening of Red Tails and thought I would share. The film is being released in January 2012.

Red Tails is better than any other movie made to date about the legendary Tuskegee Airmen. Given the competition that is not a surprise. Is this a problem? Absolutely not.

Anthony Hemingway, John Ridley, Aaron McGruder (of the Boondocks) and producer George Lucas have combined to deliver a fun and more than serviceable (as well as very respectful to the subject matter) movie about the awe inspiring Tuskegee airmen. With a full cast of marquee actors such as Terrence Howard, Cuba Gooding Jr., and a range of folks from HBO's The Wire, the movie is overflowing with familiar faces.

Red Tails is George Lucas's long in the making vanity film about the all African American 332nd Fighter Group during World War 2--a time when Jim and Jane Crow segregation was the law of the land, and "separate but equal" was thought to be a military and social necessity. The movie is corny. It is predictable. There are no surprises here with the plot or character development. And for those folks who possess even a passing familiarity with the Tuskegee Airmen's story and the "Double V" campaign by black Americans for victory abroad against fascism, and at home against white supremacy, Red Tails is a very much by the numbers movie.

Consequently, Red Tails features the obligatory scenes where the black airmen stand up to white bigots and "earn" their respect. There are moments of esprit de corps where the black airmen reflect on the need for race pride, dignity, and excellence in the face of white racism. The Tuskegee airmen are the perennial underdogs, who along with a few self-interested white allies, earn their shot at the big time and deliver brilliantly. The Germans are one dimensional stock villains. As is now obligatory (and quite problematic) in movies about black servicemen in World War 2, there is an interracial love story where one of the African American protagonists falls in love with a beautiful white woman and race is curiously omitted as an obstacle in their relationship.

We know that George Lucas loves speed. To point: the dogfights are thrilling, chaotic, and visceral as they embody a love of machines that began on the screen back with American Graffiti and continued through to Star Wars (a potential Easter egg of sorts: the soundtrack and effects were still being finalized, but sounds borrowed from the pod race in Episode One are used during the dogfights). As a bit of a grognard and gear head, to my eyes at least, George Lucas employed some solid military consultants as the planes don't float like u.f.o.'s--they have real weight and gravity as they move across the screen. Red Tails also features some nice details in the insignia and nose art of the Tuskegee Airmen's Warhawks and Mustangs, as well as the Luftwaffe's BF 109s and FW 190s. Together these little touches give an air of authenticity to the film.

In all, Red Tails is a mix of the 1990s World War 2 movie Memphis Belle, and such classics as Twelve O'Clock High and The Flying Leathernecks. Consequently, the nostalgia level is turned way up, and the dialogue is both self-consciously and unapologetically aware of its own melodrama. As a result, there are several times when the film force feeds nationalism and patriotism down the audience's throat.

I will forgive George Lucas and the other folks who worked on Red Tails that aesthetic and narrative choice. For a variety of reasons, Black Americans (and other people of color) never got their corny, jingoistic, nostalgia laden mass market World War 2 movie (Windtalkers excluded). Now we have it in Red Tails.

Given that America is a country, exhausted and made cynical by an imperial misadventure in Iraq and a losing war in Afghanistan, will the movie do good business? While many potential movie goers may be turned off by a film that is not Saving Private Ryan, there are likely others who yearn for a return to a simple story of good guys and bad guys, and where the lines of right and wrong are clearly drawn.

I choose to forgive Red Tails' flat history, two dimensional characters, and predictable plot. It took decades, but we finally have a technically competent, compelling, World War 2 action movie where black folks are treated with respect, dignity, and not as sideshows to our own history (and acknowledging the obvious example here: the excellent movie A Soldier's Story is a different genre of film than Red Tails).

Ultimately, Red Tails is more than the sum of its parts. It is a good movie, certainly not perfect, but satisfying.

I would like to thank you George. As a life long Star Wars fan and unapologetic ghetto nerd, you have earned back some of my love. It is appreciated and respected. I may not forgive you the misstep that was The Phantom Menace, but with Red Tails you showed me that you still have heart.


Shady_Grady said...

Looks nice.
It is amazing the difference that quality production and direction makes to a film.

chaunceydevega said...

Lucas spent about 30 million of his own money on it. I wonder if his girlfriend was in his ear making sure that he did a passable job. I am more than impressed with the result given all of the problems that were rumored to exist in the early drafts.

Plane Ideas said...

My father-law was a TA..Can't wait to see this film!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry but this film has all of the making of a typical Hollywood piece of cliched garbage.

How can you possibly have a realistic war movie and have a PG-13 rating? By the looks of the trailer I can almost bet it will be PG-13.

These men deserve more than a watered down campy version of the horrors they faced and the sacrifices they made for this joke of a nation.

Also, ww2 era P-51 Mustangs can't maneuver like Tie-fighters and x-wings(Star Wars nerd talk, sorry)

Instead of seeing this movie, I'll just read a book about the subject. Better yet I could simply talk to my Grandfather.

Steven Barnes said...

There have been hundreds of PG-13 level war movies. Lucas will be fighting uphill every inch of the way to make a profit on this movie, and making it R would have been suicide. I seriously wish him well, and believe he had nothing but the very best intentions. Glad to see the good review!

fred c said...

You'd be surprised what those Mustangs could do. The opponents certainly were. Those guys didn't fly them according to the manual, unless it was the part of the manual that said, "never do this! You'll bend the airframe!"

fred c said...

The integration of the military is an important issue that should get more play. Certain Americans were saying that we can't live and work together as equals, it's not fair to anyone. It was the military that proved them wrong.

The first hesitant steps came during WWII. These pilots were as good as anybody, great pilots, great fighters, and their dignity throughout was like a beacon. A bunch of Jackie Robinsons!

In Korea, the Army first tried "integrating" large formations (battalions) with all-Black sub-formations (companies). This didn't work out, the Black units were scorned and found wanting. When the Army went ahead and integrated all units organically, everybody side-by-side, the problem disappeared. Poof! Successful integration. (Big picture at least, I know that there were still problems at the individual level.)

That was a powerful lesson for society at large, and it laid the ground work for what came after.

Anonymous said...

I knew this movie was going to do what all Hollywood movies do. This movie is "too black". So they did not put any BLACK women as love interests...instead they shoot for the "interracial relationship" to try and save the movie. It's sad that black women are rarely used as leading ladies in movies. This one had potential to be inspiring to EVERYONE in the black community but once again send the message that black women aren't good enough for relationships. I know that this is not what the movie is about...relationships... But it would have been nice to feature an all black relationship in a movie that's suppose to inspire the black culture

Anonymous said...

agreed with anonymous. will not be seeing it until they decide that BW are good enough for love relationships. i get sick of the hate against us. no way willi se eit, especiall since the majority of the tuskegee airmen were in love with BW

nomad said...

Haven't heard anyone mention Ralph Ellison's take on the Tuskegee airmen. His short story about one of them fell to earth was the prototype for The Invisible Man: "Flying Home".