Red Tails opened with a potent quote from a 1925 military study that stated, “Blacks are mentally inferior and by nature subservient, and thus are unfit for combat.” As an avid movie-goer, I have watched many films that have depicted African American from a historical perspective to pursue equality and opportunity. My favorite film of such was the movie Glory, directed by Edward Zwick. Glory captured that element of a dramatic war film that portrayed the ravages of a slavery era that dragged the audience into all the highs and lows blacks faced during a time of national divide. There are several other films that would fall under the category of black historical drama that I have truly appreciated: The Color Purple, Beloved, The Tuskegee Airmen, Men of Honor and Amistad. All of these films created a feeling of empathy with the characters and did not deviate from the objective of documenting the struggles each suffered through to obtain the objective of freedom from persecution. Unfortunately, Red Tails did not escape the gravity of its own self-inflicted levity.
As I watched the film, directed by Anthony Hemingway, I was excited as the film opened up into this crisp cutting edge cinematography of planes rumbling through the sky on a mission to liberate the world from Germany. The visuals were some of the best I have seen and the characters appeared to rely on the scope of the war as a way to navigate their way into a bad situation of being shot down over Italy.
As the film slowly pressed forward and segued into introducing the main characters: Lightning, Easy, Ray Gun, Junior and Joker, the film hits a road block of sorts with broken and ill-humored quips in the dialogue that take away from any struggles that are not clearly seen. In short, the characters became as one-dimensional as a stick figure.
After hearing some of the levity, I noticed that there were no layers to peel back or any real character background to empathize or relate to any struggle. There were times that the audience would seem to question whether there were any obstacles for the characters to overcome as it seemed that the honor of flying Mustang Fighters were willingly handed over to blacks in the 1940’s. The movie jumped around too much from Lightning and his very fast courtship scenes of an Italian woman he picked up on the fly, to Junior’s near death experiences to Easy’s veiled ‘drinking’ problem. Red Tails failed to draw this viewer into the struggles of the Tuskegee Airmen.
As I stated before, Glory has and likely will be my favorite dramatic film depicting the black struggle for freedom to become a part of the fabric of the United States of American history. I became a soldier of the 54th. I could stand at the end and say I am Trip! Unfortunately, I could not stand at the end of Red Tails because I did not feel what I thought I would feel which was pride.
Red Tails was a good movie in which the graphics were great but unfortunately the script seemed hurried. Did George Lucas put his all into Red Tails? Only he can provide that answer. Maybe the next dramatic film depicting the plight of African Americans will be just that, dramatic.