"The good name of great men high-jacked by a bad movie."
Perhaps a greater rebuke to racism than Anthony Hemingway’s tepid “Red Tails” is the reality that the film got made at all. George Lucas, that most notorious toymaker of the silver screen, purportedly dumped some $53 million of his own money into the film because the studios had trepidations about the marketability of a film with all black actors. I have little doubt the film will do well. That worry seems a miscalculation. But if the film does perform poorly at the box office it won’t be because of the skin color of its leads. It will be because it is a bad film. Caught between a rock and a hard place, the varying success of the effort will either validate the hesitant studios’ prophecies of lingering cultural racism or their own cynicism.“Red Tails” is an action movie, and is mired in the weaknesses of that genre that its disciples so often dismiss. Its dialog is hopelessly inane. The action itself is slopped together with excessive editing and special effects. No effort is made to maintain any spatial relationships between the subjects of a scene. Hemingway does enough to give one that vague sense that something is happening in front of them and little more. Moreover, if any real-life action heroes deserved better than this lazy popcorn treatment, it was the Tuskegee Airmen who, during WWII with hand-me-down planes and ramshackle equipment built a reputation as one of America’s most formidable squads of fighter pilots.
This they did in the age of Jim Crow, a squad of almost exclusively black fighter pilots, generals, and mechanics. They were left with janitorial missions, blowing up freight trains far behind the front lines because of a twisted study released by the United States military deeming black people intellectually ill-equipped for complex machinery. They gained notoriety with the armed forces by protecting fleets of B-52 Bombers with unusual efficiency. I recall a moment after just such a scene whereupon a white B-52 pilot subtly explains, “I sure hope we get those Red Tails again!”
One must ponder the point, really. This production, championed by Mr. Lucas, wasn’t the first big screen portrayal of the Tuskegee Airmen (nor was it the second…or third). “Red Tails” isn’t an effort to place an action movie in the purpose of a social or political agenda. It is an effort to do the exact opposite. I’ve read in a handful of negative reviews of the film that it was, in spite of its failures – and I’m paraphrasing here – at least a noble effort, that at least Mr. Lucas and Mr. Hemingway did the work (and put down the money) to make a movie about great people. I’m not satisfied.The undertaking of commendable source material doesn’t abdicate one from the moral and ethical consequences of a failed or lazy film. Indeed it rather intensifies the responsibilities assumed by the filmmaker. “Red Tails” is a con, an assembly line dog fight thriller thinly veiled as a glorious testament to the perseverance of an oppressed minority. One can only hope this injustice provokes a real film about these great men from someone with even the most remote emotional connection to them.