By Lee Hubbard
The Tuskegee Airmen, the first Black pilots in the Armed Forces during World War II, flew over 1,500 missions and shot down more than 100 German aircraft between 1943 and 1945, including three of the first German jets ever used in combat.
Their planes – P-51 Mustangs were painted with a red tail – were feared by the enemy and respected by allies. Their story is brought to the screen in the film “Red Tails” that opened recently in theaters.
Directed by Anthony Hemingway, “Red Tails” was produced by George Lucas. The film stars Oscar winner Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrence Howard, Nate Parker, R&B singer Neyo and rapper Method Man.
The film is an action adventure inspired by stories of Tuskegee Airmen’s real life stories.
“It boils down to a bunch of young men thrust into an incredible situation who, against all odds, do a phenomenal job and come out heroes – they’re really the knights of the contemporary age,” said Lucas.
While the film focuses largely on the Tuskegee Airmen’s flights and fights in the European war, another story unfolds at home. In the U.S. they had to deal with army officials who tried to keep them from flying, due to the racist belief that Blacks could not fly.
“I thought their story would make a great film, an inspirational one that shows the incredible things these men went through to patriotically serve with valor and help the world battle back the evils of fascism,” Lucas said. “It is an amazing story, and I wanted to memorialize it.”
Lucas and others who worked on the film spent hundreds of hours with the surviving Tuskegee Airmen, visiting them in their homes and attending the annual Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. National Convention.
The film is rooted in history but is not a dull tales, showing young men who were under pressure to perform in the war and to set an example to the larger society. The script was written by John Ridley and Aaron McGruder, creator of the comic strip and Boondocks television show.
“This is an adventure movie and not a civil rights movie,” said Dr. Roscoe Brown, one of the original Tuskegee Airmen who consulted on the film. “It is about us overcoming the obstacle of racism with excellence and friendship, camaraderie and discipline. Those are the eternal lessons that affect anybody.”