Student Voice


February 21, 2024




‘Red Tails’ highlights underappreciated Tuskegee Airmen

February 10, 2012

Last week I wrote about the movie “My Week with Marilyn,” so this week I decided to stick with the movie theme and talk about another film that I saw called “Red Tails.” The movie profiles the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II. The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African Americans that were ever allowed to fly planes for the U.S. military. In 1941, the U.S. Congress forced the Army Air Corps to form an all black unit, much to their chagrin.

The squadron was based in Tuskegee, Ala., hence the name, the Tuskegee Airmen. George Lucas, the director of the film was able to meet with surviving members of the Tuskegee squadron and get his hands on original log books and documents from the war. The movie begins in Italy in 1944. The primary mission of the pilots is to do ground patrol. This means they must be on the lookout for any sort of enemy transportation. The men assume that they are given this task because of their race.

Some of the men form a tight knit group while in Italy, a bond that lasts through out the whole movie. There’s Martin “Easy” Julian, an alcoholic, Joe “Lightning” Little, the hot shot, Ray “Ray Gun” Gannon, the young buck, and Samuel “Joker” George. Handsome rapper Ne-Yo also has a small part in the film. These men are lead by Cuba Gooding Jr. and Terrance Howard. Throughout the movie, the Tuskegee Airmen struggle to become seen as equals by the rest of the military. Finally, the men get their chance to shine.

The Tuskegee Airmen are involved in Operation Shingle. Their objective was to provide support for the allied forces as they landed on the beaches of Italy. They even manage to destroy a German airfield. The airmen also aided the allies in their attempt to bomb Berlin. Though these victories do not come without a price. “Lightning” ended up losing his life after a heroic effort to save the life of another member. However, even when losing a friend, the men never lost hope. In the end, the Tuskegee Airmen were able to earn the respect of their white brethren. This movie had quite a happy ending.

It was a very good movie, I highly recommend it but there are some things that I wish Lucas had changed. I enjoyed the fact that the filmmakers tried keeping the movie as historically accurate as possible though I disliked the fact that the film only seemed to focus on a few select members of the Tuskegee Airmen. If those focused on were based off of real people that had been in the squadron, perhaps it would have been more compelling. If the characters in the movie had been based off of the real Tuskegee Airmen, the audience might have been able to have a better feel of what being a minority in the military was all about. I was once told that the test of a great movie was whether or not the audience was aware of the fact that they were still in a movie theatre. I was drawn into the story, but I would not give it five stars.

Samantha Harkness is a journalism major at UW-River Falls. She loves reading, writing and watching movies.