‘Red Tails,’ the movie based on the historic Tuskegee Airmen starring Cuba Gooding Jr. and Terence Howard opens today.
George Lucas’ role in funding the film was a curious one. Robert E. Pierre reports:
George Lucas has been making the rounds this week to talk about the upcoming release of his movie, Red Tails. Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, put up $58 million of his own money toward the film after being turned down by all the major movie houses.
Lucas said executives worried that the majority-black cast wouldn’t put butts in the seats, even though that cast includes Terrence Howard, Cuba Gooding Jr., up and comer Tristan Wilds, Ne-Yo and Nate Parker. The director, also a black man, is Anthony Hemingway.
“They don’t believe there’s any foreign market for it and that’s 60 percent of their profit…I showed it to all of them and they said ‘No. We don’t know how to market a movie like this,’” Lucas said during an appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
I hope that as many folks as possible will pack the theaters on opening weekend. We certainly need a break from the typical buffoonery that is passed off by the movie industry as representative of our stories. (And yes, I am including the Tyler Perry movies that so many people love.)
Just the imagery of the men portrayed in the trailer is worth the price of admission. Whether the film gets the story of the famed Tuskegee airmen exactly right is beside the point. It’s just important for everyone who has a story- regardless of race, gender or sexuality - to tell them and spread them as widely as possible. That ensures that history isn’t simply somebody else’s story.
The theory that the movie proves that a black-focused film is just what the film industry needs right, the Associated Press reports :
Bobby Lovett was a history professor at Tennessee State University in Nashville for nearly 40 years before recently retiring. He often invited some of the Tuskegee Airmen to speak to his students, who were fascinated by their stories.
“There’s a sort of romanticism attached to pilots and aircraft,” he said. “I don’t know of any other story you could pull out of World War II that would be as appealing to an audience.”
Vanderbilt University professor Alice Randall said the movie could introduce some to a portion of black history they’ve never heard.
“We have an opportunity to ... educate viewers, even as we entertain them, about the rainbow of Americans who have performed patriotic duty for this country,” said Randall, a writer-in-residence in African American and Diaspora Studies at Vanderbilt.
Tennessee Rep. Tony Shipley, a Kingsport Republican and retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who has attended events with the Tuskegee Airmen, said “the war could have gone a different direction” had it not been for the airmen who escorted bombers deep into Germany.
“Those guys were ... absolutely awesome,” said Shipley, who is white. “And if anybody pays attention to the story — who cares black, white, green, yellow — they were Americans. People are alive today whose grandfather would have been killed had it not been for the Tuskegee Airmen.”
Vernice Armour, the nation’s first black female combat pilot, said the airmen helped pave the way for men and women in the military, and noted a phrase at the bottom of a poster advertising the movie that reads: “Courage has no color.”
“Without their honor, courage and sacrifice, I wouldn’t be where I am,” said Armour, who served two tours during the Iraq War as a Marine.
The Tuskegee Airmen were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for their service in 2007 by President George W. Bush, and were invited to attend President Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009. The president and first lady Michelle Obama screened “Red Tails” at the White House last week.
Regardless of its impact at the box office, many believe the inspirational message of the movie will linger for a long time.
But Nicole Moliere warns readers to be careful and not look at the Tuskegee Airman as a ‘magical negro’ - a pitfall often felt by African-Americans:
It was an incredible revelation. My family had never talked about Irving, so to be connected to someone who was a part of a courageous story being told in an upcoming movie was very exciting. I was overwhelmed with pride. My uncle put him in context.
“Nicole, Hollywood might have you think these men were “magic negroes,” he said. “Really, they were just doing their job, the same way I did mine when I flew in Vietnam. We didn’t think of ourselves as heroes.”
It was a sobering reminder that we often laud people for their accomplishments more than we do for their basic human worth.
Through the “myth of the magical negro,” Hollywood often portrays African-Americans as heroes only in self-sacrificing or mystical circumstances, and only when they come to the aid of white people. Think Will Smith in “Bagger Vance,” Sidney Poitier in “The Defiant Ones,”or Michael Clark Duncan as John Coffey in “The Green Mile.” The characters--all with special powers--exist mostly as a plot device, ignoring their complexity as human beings.
The message is: You are invisible until I need you.
I didn’t want to commit this same sin by taking some vicarious credit for my heretofore unknown cousin’s service as a Tuskegee Airman. While it was perfectly reasonable for me to be proud of his accomplishment, I also reminded myself that Wellington Irving was more than a talking point. He was a human being who had, outside of his military service, led an ordinary life with an upbringing that I would unfortunately never know.
Heroism is often richer and more complex than stories of leaping tall buildings in a single bound. Most heroes are not supermen or superwomen. Most heroes come from ordinary backgrounds but, through perseverance and courage, achieve extraordinary results.
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