Red Tails vs. The Tuskegee Airmen

With Black History Month being here, it is most definitely a smart move to bring the movie “Red Tails” into the movie theaters.

I have seen Red Tails two times so far. Once with the pleasure of actually meeting a Tuskegee Airman, Conway Jones Jr.

The mix was perfect, I watched “Red Tails” first, then watched the “Tuskegee Airmen” from 1995 and then Red Tails a second time. Having the knowledge and more details from the Tuskegee Airmen , certain aspects appeared clearer in Red Tails the second time I watched it.

The subject matter in both movies deals with the trials and triumphs of the first all-black U.S. Army Air Corps fighter group, nicknamed the Tuskegee Airmen and is based on a true story.

Storyline The Tuskegee Airmen    

The Tuskegee Airmen film from 1995 was directed by Robert Markowitz and stars Laurence Fishburne, and one of my personal favorites Cuba Gooding Jr.,along with  John Lithgow, and Malcolm-Jamal Warner.

During the Second World War, a special project is begun by the US Army Air Corps to integrate African-American pilots into the Fighter Pilot Program. Known as the “Tuskegee Airmen” (for the name of the airbase at which they were trained) these men were forced to constantly endure harassment, prejudice, and much behind the scenes politics until at last they were able to prove themselves in combat.

Proud, solemn, Iowa-born Laurence Fishburne and city-kid hipster Cuba Gooding Jr. are among the hopefuls who meet en route to Tuskegee Air Force Base, where they are among the recruits for an “experimental” program to “prove” the abilities of the black man in the U.S. armed services. Fighting prejudice from racist officers and government officials and held to a consistently higher level of performance than their white counterparts, these men prove themselves in training and in combat, many of them dying for their country in the process.

Storyline Red Tails

The Movie Red Tails produced by George Lucas, directed by Anthony Hemingway and released by 20th Century Fox  is based on the 1995 Movie Tuskegee Airmen, and even has some of the main characters in common as in Cuba Gooding Jr. Other cast are Terrence Howard, David Oyelowo, Nate Parker, Tristan Wilds, Ne-Yo, Elijah Kelley, Marcus T. Paulk, Andre Royo, Bryan Cranston, Michael B. Jordan, Gerald McRaney, Method Man, Lee Tergesen, Matthew Leitch, Robert Kazinsky, and Daniela Ruah.

Everyone from Oprah Winfrey to Taraji P. Henson to LL Cool J to Spike Lee have come out in force via social media to promote the film and implore African-Americans to flood the theaters in their home town.

The storyline is mainly the same as in the Tuskegee Airmen; An account of the Tuskegee Airmen, an all-black World War II fighter pilot squad. The squadron, which was sent to North Africa and Italy to escort white bomber pilots, consisted of some of the best fighter pilots in the Air Corps. And a little Love story goes along with the main plot too.”Red Tails” drops us into the action in Italy, 1944. A group of black pilots who trained at Tuskegee, Ala., as an “experiment” to see whether their race could be as skillful as whites at shooting enemies while flying airplanes has been relegated to unimportant missions. They’ve been given just enough work for the top brass to say they’re being used, but not enough to actually matter.

These Tuskegee flyers are portrayed as a generic bunch of war movie stock characters, all represented by nicknames. Easy (Nate Parker) is their strict team leader; he drinks a lot. His best friend, Lightning (David Oyelowo), is a maverick and a hotshot, and the one burdened with the obligatory romance with a local Italian girl (Daniela Ruah). Deacon (Marcus T. Paulik) trusts that “black Jesus” will protect him; Junior (Tristan Wilds) is the enthusiastic new recruit; Smoky (Ne-Yo) plays blues guitar; Joker (Elijah Kelley) jokes; you get the idea.

Their commanding officers, Col. Bullard (Terrence Howard) and Maj. Stance (Cuba Gooding Jr.), do all they can to convince the higher-ups that the team deserves to be trusted with an important mission. When they do accomplish something impressive, racist Col. Mortamus (Bryan Cranston), with his smooth Southern-gentleman accent, tells Bullard, “Eight German fighters or 80 German fighters, it still doesn’t change what I think of you and your boys.” Later, the Tuskegee Airmen are assigned to escort an all-white group of pilots, who figure, oh great, having black pilots next to us is the same as having nobody next to us. When the Tuskegee boys, their planes’ tails painted a distinctive red, prove their worth, the racists immediately change their tune. “I hope we meet up with those Red Tails next time!” one says.

The Two Movies Compared

The Tuskegee Airmen is an excellent story and the movie is kept down to details and doesn’t have any “Hollywood romances” involved like the Red Tail Movie does. It is also not a movie where all whites are bad or good and all blacks are good or bad.

Instead The Tuskegee Airmen Movie shows the struggles the pilots had to deal with on a daily basis. The movie didn’t need any extra love story as it focuses completely on the historical aspect. It has more details on how the pilots had to deal with racism. Red Tails does show this too, but not as detailed and reactions of the pilots are shown far less.

I wish Red Tails would have connected emotionally a little bit more with the audience and shown more emotions, because I am sure there were more emotions from the pilots. I would assume the pilots had been way more troubled with fighting for a country which didn’t want them and treated them badly because of their skin color and I find that Red Tails doesn’t show this emotional conflict in full.

Also, I am sure that the racism did not just stop on one day, because the scene with the white officers not letting them into the whites only club and then being super friendly and thankful does seem a little bit too played and it is hard for me to imagine that the treatment of the black pilots changed this dramatically in such a short period of time, especially still having in mind that racism still exists nowadays…  And having read that some of the Tuskegee Airmen even got arrested for demanding lawful entry into the white officer’s club at Freeman Field, Indiana, I am sure the historical part of this scene in the movie is not quite as true.

On the other side, Red Tails had amazingly special effects and great action.  The emphasis here is on “action,” and this is not so much a social or historical document as a war thriller. A great deal of the film is devoted to aerial dogfights, with POV shots of the pursuit of enemy fighters.

The actors did a great job, especially Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrence Howard and Ne Yo. I was really positively surprised by Ne Yo in this movie. He really did a good job on this one. I am actually in love with pretty much all of the actors from this movie, it is a great cast!!  The Tuskegee Airmen from 1995 obviously didn’t have this quality and extra action in the aircraft scenes.

In my opinion, Red Tails is a great movie, definitely worth seeing (like I said, I saw it twice), but seeing Tuskegee Airmen before definitely clears up a lot and gives more historical background before starting to watch Red Tails.

I am also really honored by having met Mr. Conway Jones Jr. to who I talked to for a while, when seeing Red Tails at the movies.

In 1993, he retired after 30 years of exemplary Air Force service, including work at the Pentagon and 22 years as an Air Force reservist. In Vietnam, he flew 87 combat missions. He was a transport and airlift navigator.

Check out the picture below!

Mr. Conway Jones Jr. and I

November 3, 2011                                           San Francisco, California
Lucas Films, The Presidio
(Right to left) George Lucas, producer of Red Tails, with Conway Jones,
following the first public screening of Red Tails, a film about the
Tuskegee Airmen, the Negro pilots on World War II.
Photograph: Leslie Jones
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~ by Colorful Soul on 02/12/2012.

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