Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Tragedy Of Red Tails

The film Red Tails opened this month and did very well in theaters around the nation. I was excited to see a new telling of the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, but frankly from my point of view, the film fell well short of the mark.

As the film got closer to opening and I saw more of the trailers, it became pretty clear that this was a typical Lucas Film/Industrial Light & Magic project or as Cuba Gooding Jr. tabbed it, "Star Wars for black people." I think a real hint that it was not going to be true to the real story should have been the statement- "Based on true events." In other words, artistic license will be exercised. And it was.

Before getting to my prime complaint let me say that I felt the script, the dialogue and the acting were all pretty weak. I read that this is a film that George Lucas has wanted to make since 1988. Well if that is truly the case I don't know what he was doing all of those years because it looks like it did not take much time or effort to make. Maybe Star Wars- Episodes 1-3 got in the way. If you have not seen it, the much lower budget Tuskegee Airmen, HBO movie, was a much better story and depiction of this incredible story.

In my opinion the film Red Tails did a poor job of showing what the Tuskegee Airmen went through to become the pilots and pioneers they were. The cliche scenes of a bigoted General, and one of the pilots being called Nigger and beaten up at an all white Officer's Club cheapen the real achievements and obstacles overcome.

One of my biggest disappointments was in the scene when the "Lightning" character and his friend and captain were having it out in the chapel. Lightning says 'man, you are just one big "Atlanta Compromise".' This was a direct slam against Booker T. Washington the founder of Tuskegee Institute. The sentiment is just silly in that had it not been for Dr. Washington there would have been no Tuskegee and hence NO TUSKEGEE AIRMEN. It was just silly and unnecessary. Apparently in an attempt to make a political statement this line was inserted by the script writers, who I would bet have no understanding of what that statement really means. I am sure that this was an insert by Boondocks creator Aaron McGruder, who was called in to help rewrite and edit the final script. McGruder is another story for another time, but the Atlanta speech reference was completely unfounded and unnecessary.

One final thing that I wanted to address is that the film missed a very crucial aspect of the story of the Tuskegee Airmen. The Tuskegee Airmen have been rightly credited with exceptionalism in their flight skills and ability to stay on mission. The all white bomber pilots specifically requested the Red Tails to be their escorts over the white fighter pilots. Why? Because the Red Tails did the job they were asked to do and not what they wanted to do. The doing their job well and staying on mission is a direct result of understanding one of the core principles of Booker T. Washington and Tuskegee. That principle is one of doing the job not only as well as expected but better than expected. Doing it better than anyone else.

The other and even bigger thing that will escape most people is the fact that the main reason that the Red Tails were so successful is that just to get into flight school these men had to test better and do more than their white counterparts. Yes, you heard me correctly, they had to test better and do more than their white counterparts just to get into flight school. This of course puts a major dent into the progressive notion of "Affirmative Action," that we need to lower the bar for black people to succeed. The bar was not only not lowered for the Tuskegee Airmen, it was raised. Shhhh! Please don't let that get out.

I urge anyone reading this piece to not only rent the HBO film Tuskegee Airmen, but to also get the books of Booker T. Washington the founder of Tuskegee Institute and read everything you can about him and the founding and building of that institution. I promise that you will not be disappointed.

I leave you with just a few of the teachings of Booker T. Washington to whom the real credit goes, event though those who should give it will not.

"Let us keep before us the fact that, almost without exception, every race or nation that has ever got upon its feet has done so through struggle and trial and persecution; and that out of this very resistance to wrong, out of the struggle against odds, they have gained strength, self-confidence, and experience which they could not have gained in any other way."

"I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life, as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed."

"The man who has learned to do something better than anyone else, has learned to do a common thing in an uncommon manner, is the man who has a power and influence that no adverse circumstances can take from him."