The titular planes that tear across the skies in Red Tails (2012), financed and executive produced by George Lucas, were piloted by none other than the Tuskegee Airmen. I once met a Tuskegee Airman. An alumnus of Morehouse College, my alma mater, he was one of a number of luminaries set to receive a lifetime achievement award for his years of service in the community. He was a man whose then-enfeebled condition belied the amazing contribution he and his brethren made during the Second World War.
In our era of ever-present cynicism, it is refreshing to look back at a time when young men were drafted into military service and defended America with a sense of duty. With that being said, it’s difficult to glamorize the theatrical reproduction of these war films behind the guise of a dramatic shift in race relations on the big screen. Incorporating African Americans into the greater American jingoistic narrative does nothing to reconcile our history of institutionalized segregation on film. The war films that are typically thought of as great pictures—Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, and Saving Private Ryan, just to name a few—manage to display the action and spectacle of war while still recognizing its terribly destructive effect on human beings, but often they fail to examine race in a truly significant way. Despite having an all-black cast, Red Tails shies away from making any sort of real statement about race—or war, for that matter—and instead focuses on delivering an adrenaline-pumping journey through the skies.
The major narrative surrounding the film is George Lucas’s personal struggle to produce the film over the past 23 years. Continue reading