Red Tails and Reality
The 'friendly skies' did not exist over Europe when the Red Tails flew, as depicted in a movie released by Fox this weekend. The Red Tails is the name used to designate the famous World War II black fighter pilots, the Tuskegee Airmen. Created under pressure from civil rights groups, Congress, and the black press, the Tuskegee Airmen were a 1941 experiment that was supposed to fail. The all black pursuit squadron trained at the Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama. The pilots became known, as the "Red Tails" after the tails of their planes were painted red for identification purposes.
The movie powerfully opens with the words from a 1925 Army War College Study, which concluded that blacks were unsuitable to serve in the military due to their lack of intelligence, ambition, and courage. It jumps to showing the Tuskegee Airmen wasting their talents shooting up German freight trains. Lt. Col. Alex Jefferson, a Tuskegee pilot, told American Thinker that the movie correctly depicts how Lt. Col Benjamin Davis Jr. traveled to Washington to convince the army leaders to allow the black squadron a combat opportunity. The main focus of the movie takes place in Italy, during 1944, where the group flew bomber escort missions. Although the true names were not used, anyone knowing the history can infer that Colonel A.J. Bullard, brilliantly played by Terrence Howard, is actually Lt. Col. Benjamin Davis Jr. and Major Emmanuel Stone, played by Cuba Gooding Junior, is Major George "Spanky" Roberts, the commanding officer. The pilots depicted in the movie were played by unknown actors and were a composite of the Tuskegee Airmen.
The strength of the film is what George Lucas, the Executive Producer, does best: the action scenes. These scenes were very realistic and allowed viewers to feel they were in the cockpit. The skill and aggressiveness of the pilots were very well displayed while the German pilots were perceived as a pack of wolves trying to stalk their prey. Even though the movie ran a little over two hours, it did not fully show the stunning and remarkable achievement of how the Tuskegee Airmen, in Mustang P-51 propeller fighter planes, was able to win the battle with the newly introduced German jets. What was most interesting and accurate, according to Jefferson, is how the dogfights between planes took place while escorting the bombers who were in the middle of the fight.
The race issue is touched upon through some of the quotes, such as a bomber pilot's statement about the black escort pilots, "I don't think our fighter escort will be much help this trip." Yet, those same bombers in a later scene bought the Tuskegee airmen a drink in the Officer's Pub in Italy. Was it realistic that black officers were accepted and allowed in the officer's pub? Jefferson confirmed to American Thinker, "after the white pilots found out we saved them and bought them safely back home they did buy us a drink. They were thankful. Their attitude changed, especially after we saved their butt."
The worst of Lucas was also a part of the film: the dialogue and sub-plots. The dialogue between the pilots during the combat scenes seemed forced and out of place. Jefferson described the pilot banter as "make believe that was strictly Hollywood stuff. If that kind of conversation would have gone on Colonel Davis would have court-martialed us."
Two unnecessary detour sub-plots were the love interest scenes and the POW escape scene. The Airmen's story is interesting in itself, and by including these subplots the movie became disjointed. The time might have been better spent talking about how, after the black pilots were transferred to a Michigan airbase for a combat readiness training assignment, they had fewer privileges than the German POW's that were also there. The movie could have included a scene, as described by Lt. Col. Jefferson, where the German POW's were allowed more access because "white people, even our enemies, had more rights."
Another scene that Jefferson felt was completely unrealistic was having the pilots forming a circle before a mission chanting, "we will fight." It came across more like a football huddle. He said that would never have happened since blacks, as all Americans, had "the attitude that they were fighting to defend their country. During the War every man did what he had to do. There was a different mentality about the draft and serving your country than there is today."
Overall this is a good wartime picture. It is an old fashioned movie, not only since it takes place in the 1940's, but also because it evokes references to G-d and country. This is no more evident than when one of the pilots states that they had the same right to fight for their country as every other American, and an ending scene depicting the American flag as America the Beautiful is being played.