Tuskegee Airmen

Culture Warrior

A week and a half ago, Anthony Hemingway’s Red Tails was released. On the surface, the film breathes Hollywood oxygen through-and-through. It’s a WWII era action film that uses its setting for broad family-friendly cheese-banter and CGI-heavy eye candy rather than an opportunity for a sober interrogation of history. Red Tails looks and feels like any Hollywood film geared toward as mass an audience as possible. But the studio that’s distributing it – 20th Century Fox – didn’t pay a dime to produce it. The reported $58 million cost to make Red Tails came solely out of the pocket of producer George Lucas, who had been attempting to get a film about the Tuskegee Airmen made since the early 1990s. He was continually met with resistance from a studio system that saw anything less than the biggest guaranteed appeal to the largest possible audience as a “risk,” including a heroic true story about African-American airmen. The ideology that closed the doors on George Lucas of all people reflects the same business mentality that inspired Jeffrey Katzenberg’s lengthy warning to other studios in a memo written during the same years that Lucas was first trying to get Red Tails financed.  In the memo, Katzenberg warned studios regarding their practice of exponentially centralizing all their resources in a few very expensive projects, resulting in high risk, little room for experimentation, and an increasing reliance on that coveted monolith known as the “mass audience” (which, to make things even more complicated, now includes […]

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In 1995, HBO produced a film called The Tuskegee Airmen chronicling the heroic story of the first squadron of African-American fighter pilots during WWII. The HBO version stars Laurence Fishburne, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, John Lithgow, and Cuba Gooding Jr. I don’t mention this film because of its obscurity, or to thereby prove my film knowledge by pointing it out. I offer this film as favorable alternative to wasting two hours of time on the irrecoverable nosedive that is Red Tails. I’ll say it again, the story of the Tuskegee Airmen is beyond heroic and deserves multiple competent cinematic revisits. These were men who fervently, and with their very lives, defended a country that made policy of oppressing and mistreating them. Not only that, but they also proved to be one of the most effective and successful fighter battalions of the entire war. The larger themes of honor, duty, and sacrifice so inherent and alive in their story are reduced to After School Special platitudes in the George Lucas-produced and Anthony Hemingway-directed Red Tails. Instead of genuine traits, all of the characters occupy loosely-fitting archetypes mined from the most trite of “guys on a mission” tropes. That guy is the hot-headed glory hound, that guy is the goofy one, that guy has a drinking problem, that guy is in love, that guy looks like Denzel Washington. Okay, that last one is actually specific to Red Tails but it no less proves to be that actor’s only marketable skill.

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Kevin Carr

This week, Fat Guy Kevin Carr dresses up in his favorite Jedi robe, grabs his lightsaber and heads out to see the latest George Lucas movie…and boy does he look stupid. After realizing that Red Tails has nothing to do with the color of creatures’ backsides in the Tattooine cantina, he then dresses in his favorite “Team Jacob” tee shirt to see the latest vampire/werewolf movie. Again, he looks ridiculous. Finally, he sulks into a movie theater showing the new Steven Soderbergh film, falls in love with new action star Gina Carano and is happy.

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Howard Hughes just pissed himself. Or maybe he pissed in a few hundred bottles and then poured them all over himself, because the trailer for Red Tails is out and the aerial work in it is phenomenal. The George Lucas-produced movie, directed by Treme producer/director Anthony Hemingway tells the story of the Tuskegee Airman (or the 322nd Fighter Group if you want to get technical) as they broke racial boundaries in WWII. It stars Terrance Howard, Bryan Cranston and Cuba Gooding Jr in a role that might launch his career back on track. Regardless, the trailer leads off with its strongest suit and follows it up with a few snippets of dramatic acting:

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Whatever the reason, it looks like George Lucas is taking over on Red Tails while Anthony Hemingway heads back to television.

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