This past weekend we went to see Red Tails. We actually went to see War Horse, but there was no matinee, so we settled. Being in Southern Appalachia we expected to be the only couple in the theater. I’m happy to say that the theater was full. I’m also happy that there was no War Horse matinee.
If you haven’t seen Red Tails it is worth a look. A movie about the Tuskegee Airmen, a fighter unit made up completely of black pilots, the movie is a fictitious account of a real group of men, their accomplishments, and the initial prejudice against the very existence of an Army Air Corps unit made of “Coloreds”.
Most of the reviews have been good. Dr. Roscoe Brown, jr., one of the Airmen, and a technical consultant to the movie production commented that the only disparaging review came from someone who obviously hadn’t seen the movie. The reviewer thought that the fighter pilots flew escort for transport planes. In fact, they flew escort for bombers. That review said that the movie candy coated the conditions that black citizens lived in at the time. It didn’t. It documented the racism; it just didn’t dwell heavily on that issue. The same criticism came about the movie, “The Help”.
It is true that at the time the Tuskegee Airmen were flying and dying for their country, men were being lynched, women were being raped, and there were myriad lesser injustices carried out against Black Americans. If the movie had dwelt on those issues it is probable that the movie would never have made it to the box office and the story would not have been told.
The story flows smoothly; the individuals are shown as real men who exhibited great courage, even as they struggled with their own individual demons. This unit existed in an era when there was still strict segregation in Tuskegee, Alabama, and much of the country, and it was made clear that in order to be accepted the Airmen had to be much better than average.
The men who made up these fighter squadrons came from the top 10% of the student population at the Tuskegee Institute and after the war many went on to become doctors, attorneys and other prominent members of society. They also came back to be turned down for jobs because of their race.
In our area of the world the percentage of African Americans is so low that it gets rounded down to zero. On Monday, after seeing the movie, we went to a showing of a very depressing documentary about the influence that agribusiness has over the source and quality of our food supply. Before the movie started the only Black person I know here came in. We exchanged a little small talk and I asked if she had seen Red Tails. “Of course” she replied. I asked what she thought of it. “Judging from what my father said it was pretty accurate.” “ …your father?” “My father and uncle were both Tuskegee Airmen.”
Much less than 6 degrees of separation
The movie is doing very well at the box office. It deserves to do well. The story is exciting, uplifting, and tells a little known chapter of American history. The story needed to be told, too, because the Tuskegee Airmen are dwindling in number and it will not be long before there are no airmen left to tell the story.