Saturday, January 21, 2012

Introducing Red Tails 2.0: The "Sassy Black Sistas Special Edition" Courtesy of George Lucas

Red Tails, George Lucas' long awaited World War 2 love letter to the storied Tuskegee airmen of the 332nd Fighter Group has finally been released in theaters across the country. As I pointed out in my review some months back, the movie is a throwback to the golden age of Hollywood in the 1940s and 1950s. For some viewers this makes for a good, old school, nostalgia heavy, and fun, movie going experience. The critics are a bit more negative, with their consensus being that Red Tails is a horrible disappointment.

There has been much talk about Red Tails online, with George Lucas receiving both praise and condemnation for his honest sharing about the difficulties of getting Hollywood to make a "black" film in which white actors are not central to the story. Across the black blogosphere, the upset at Red Tails has been at the apparent omission of black women from the Tuskegee airmen's story. Clutch Magazine for example, has featured a series of posts on this question, where the feeling is that the lack of black women in Red Tails is a reflection of their broader status as second class citizens.

In the digital age, there are no final edits. To point, George Lucas has a habit of tweaking with, fixing, and updating his films. The epic Star Wars trilogies have been continually updated by George Lucas. There is little reason to believe that Red Tails will not receive the same treatment. Readers of We Are Respectable Negroes know that I love to play script doctor. Given that popular films are a playground for the imagination, I am going to run with the concerns expressed by some in the black blogosphere about the role of African-American women in Red Tails.

As always, populism is both liberating and fun.

What follows are my casting choices for the inevitable update of Red Tails, what I am calling "Red Tails 2.0: The Sassy Black Sistas Special Edition":

Red Tails is pretty standard World War 2 action fare. It features masculine comradeship, fast machines, explosions, the obligatory prisoner of war scene, a foreign love interest, and a pretty linear and predictable plot where the Tuskegee airmen struggle against white racists, win the approval of their superiors (and white peers), and go on to triumph over unbelievable odds. Adding some roles for black women in keeping with the Hollywood tradition could open up some interesting possibilities. Let's free our minds and have some fun.


Red Tails needs more comic relief. The film could benefit from a motherly figure who has been in the U.S. Army for some time as either a Secretary or Stenographer (perhaps a Buffalo Soldier?). She is now a trusted adviser to the senior officers in the 332nd. This character doesn't take any back sass from the young lions in the unit who are cocksure and a bit overconfident. This character also dispenses folksy wisdom, as well as a shoulder to cry on when matters get too dire, and friends are lost in combat.

Tyler Perry's Madea fits the role perfectly.

The Tuskegee airmen could not win World War 2 alone. There were many support personnel, mechanics, and the like who kept the P-51 Mustangs, "the Cadillac of the sky," up and running at peak performance. This actress should be attractive, but also comfortable with machines and tools. It would be a bonus if she complicated gender stereotypes about black femininity. She is a "strong black woman." She is also vulnerable. Her body and habitus should suggest athleticism, confidence, and a no nonsense attitude balanced with a need to love someone--be they male or female. Queen Latifah (or perhaps the movie Pariah's Adepero Oduye) is a great choice for the part of Master Sergeant Mechanic for the 332nd airgroup:

Red Tails has been criticized because one of the Tuskegee airmen in the film has an Italian love interest. According to its critics, this is a slap in the face to black women. They offer the following: How come they cannot have a woman of color, either a wife or girlfriend at home (or one they meet overseas) who is the object of their affection? As a corrective, there are many possibilities from which to draw for the movie--and still remain historically grounded. My suggestion is that Red Tails should feature one of the many multiracial blacks who could be found throughout Europe during World War Two.

There were Afro-Germans, French, Italians, Russians, and other nationalities across the continent. One of the pilots in the Tuskegee airmen should have an intense relationship with a character who is the child of a Black Sicilian and a white Northern Italian woman.

Hauntingly beautiful, she would be marginalized by the French in the small town near where the Tuskegee airmen are based. One faithful night she meets one of the black American pilots outside of a segregated U.S. Army club. They then proceed to dance the night away in an alley where he sings jazz classics in her ear and she provides the chorus in Italian. There relationship is a whirlwind of sexual bliss and intense, immediate love. She becomes pregnant with their love child, only to have her lover killed during one of the Tuskegee airmen's final missions of the war.

There is only one choice here: Halle Berry.

Rosie the Riveter is an iconic image from World War Two. Women served throughout the U.S. military. While they were not allowed in "combat" positions, they took great personal risks flying aircraft across the Atlantic to Europe, towing planes for gunnery practice, as nurses and spies in Europe and Asia. In fact, one of the most noted aviators of the 20th century was Bessie Coleman, an African American woman, who in the dark days of Jim Crow, flew across the United States solo. If history does in fact echo, Red Tails should include many more women of color in its narrative.

Truth is fiction; fiction is truth. The Tuskegee airmen were facing difficult odds. The War Department, in realizing that it was foolish to hold back talented war fighters from the front lines, have called up an elite group of female aviators. "The Black Banshees" are assigned to the Italian theatre of World War Two, where they appear in the last thirty minutes of Red Tails in order to save the day after the 332nd suffers heavy casualties on a particularly harrowing and poorly planned mission. At first, their presence is resisted by the Tuskegee airmen. Inevitably, The Black Banshees win over the Tuskegee Airmen, and each woman pairs up with their opposite number among the 332nd. At first the mutual attraction is resisted, but eventually each member of The Black Banshees marries a Tuskegee airmen after retiring from the service, pregnant of course with future aviators, who just like mom and dad, will be the cavalry of the skies in the jet age.

Members of The Black Banshees include Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, Missy Elliot, Jean Grea, and MC Lyte. Their flight leader is Angelina Jolie channeling her earlier role as Cleopatra.

War is hell. Blood is spilled. Bodies are broken. Nurses in wartime are sisters, mothers, confidantes, objects of unrequited love, and skilled technicians who put broken bodies back together again so that they can go out to fight (and be broken) again. There is something almost Freudian and Oedipal about nurses in many World War 2 movies: they are sister-mother-lover figures. The love is many times quite chaste...until it surrenders to desperation...and lust. Red Tails needs this actress to be compelling, pathos filled, and sincere. Gabrielle Sidibe, of Precious fame, is the perfect young actress to play the role. She is a member of the U.S. Army's nursing corps who is transferred from Atlanta, Georgia to the European theater in order to tend to the young and homesick men of the 332nd air group.

Red Tails is not a perfect movie, few are. But, Red Tails is an opportunity to self-indulge and spread our proverbial wings. True, viewers may not get exactly what they want; but, they should also be honest about the good that is there...and the hellish possibilities that could have otherwise been. This is not a soft-bigotry of low expectations as a decision rule and rubric for judging Red Tails; no, it is just real talk.

In that spirit, what other actresses would you add to Red Tails and why? And how would you cast the obligatory big budget black actress of the last few years, she who is Miss Beyonce (who I intentionally left out of my hypothetical casting game), in the film? Would you include a dance number where all of the black women in the movie break out in song Dreamgirls style?


Anonymous said...

Super idea for a film horrible film from the lousy acting to the terrible script..

TA deserve better perhaps Lucas wants to destroy Black films of this genre forever..

I will never for give me for the JAR JAR Binks character...To insert that level of racism into a SCI-FI movie and knowing children especially Black kds will so that shit wa truly fucked!!

I left the theatre happy that the subject matter is present on film but so troubled by the B movie presentation..Terrance Howard was worthless in his speeches..Cuba looked like a fool with his pipe the others actors were undermined by a chickenshit script..

Aaron McGruder's appears to be a flash in the pan who has shot his wad..

TBlanchard's music score was fucked and truly terrible

Anonymous said...

One other noteworthy mention my friend Art Sims 11:24 did all of the print campaign work on the film..

Check it out!

Shady_Grady said...

Chauncey you are truly disturbed.

=) You must know this.

I just saw the film. I want to think about it some more before writing a complete review but the biggest issue was not the relationship with the Italian lady but that the direction/pacing made the film look/feel like a TV show. The director needed to let scenes play themselves out more.

FWIW the film got applause in a theater that was 2/3 white.

chaunceydevega said...

@anon. I don't think George wants to destroy black movies. Perry and others have done that already. He loves his corny movies, but I do agree that he needs to hand over the reigns on future projects. Perhaps the live action series will be much better.

@Shady. Off my meds. Need help. Curious to see what you thought of the movie.

Anonymous said...

thanks for your eloquent dramatical descriptions of what could be if a black woman were to be in the film. Wow....thank God!

saved from disaster by not being in that film :)
What were we thinking as black women just wanting to be in a classic film people *jeez* we weren't thinking. Thanks for bringing us back to reality

fred c said...

New technology, I wonder how long it'll be until we see "new" Steve McQueen movies. Just motion-capture his ass right in there. Why should anybody be dead, if there's money to be made? Cary Grant? Carole Lombard? Wouldn't it be great? It's all digital mischief.

We could even put Black actors into the classics, it's all getting easier now. Denzel would be great in "Seven Days in May." Why are there no Black faces in "2001: a Space Odyssey?" We can fix that. Why limit it to actors? Sonny Liston got the look you need? Put him in the middle of "The Big Sleep." I'm backing Halle Berry for almost anything, how about the good witch in "The Wizard of Oz?"

When all of the analog stuff is gone, the future is going to get very complicated, and strange.

40 said...

I'm finding this "Red Tails" backlash extremely humorous. I'm interested to see where all these voices will be when Tarantino's niggacoon epic "Django Unchained" comes out this year. Quinnie loves his "N-Bombs" in his movie to the point in "Inglourious Basterds" he worked it in to that movie. So can we imagine what's in store for a movie about "With the help of his mentor, a slave-turned-bounty hunter sets out to rescue his wife from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner." So clearly the slave can't think for himself and only knows how to hone his "craft" and channel his anger because Mr. Charlie taught him how. I shudder at the amount of buck dancing, scraping, and yassabossing will go down in this big budget Hollywood flick. Something tells me Quentin will go virtually unchallenged in this shit show. But hey at least Kerry Washington got the female lead...

chaunceydevega said...

@Anon. At least a few of you got the joke.

@Fred. Random, they are remaking Damn Busters and are struggling with the name of the dog in the movie, a friend who is a world war 2 movie buff has mentioned that factoid and it will be interesting to see what comes of it. Black people in 2001? Are you crazy the dream is to get to space in order to avoid them!

@40. Got to disagree bro'. I love me some QT and really want to see what he comes up with in Django Unchained.

Shady_Grady said...

@Shady. Off my meds. Need help. Curious to see what you thought of the movie.

Check here, Chauncey.