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Red Tails (2012)



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Actor: ,
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Runtime: 125 min
Synopsis: A crew of African American pilots in the Tuskegee training program, having faced segregation while kept mostly on the ground during World War II, are called into duty under the guidance of Col. A.J. Bullard.
Release Date: January 20, 2012
Written By: John Ridley





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Posted January 23, 2012 by

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It’s 1944 and the Negro is still regarded as an unintelligent man, incapable of fighting in America’s wars due to cowardice and the inability to make intelligent decisions. This old, racist denouncement – made to fuel segregation, came from the 20’s and was still being followed by the United States military in World War II. Red Tails is the story of a squadron of African American pilots from the Tuskegee training experiment (those of you who saw The Tuskegee Airmen movie will appreciate this follow-up) who are relegated to duties that hold no effect on the war and kept them hidden from the public eye. Wanting the men to have a shot at real honor and combat, their Colonel, A.J. Bullard  (Terrence Howard) goes to the Capitol to argue for his men and eventually gets one mission that blossoms after the pilots debunk the Negro stereotype.

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The tale of Red Tails is a dramatization based on real events and was not supported by any production companies other than Lucasfilm (good ‘ol George Lucas) who put his own money behind its release. It is for this and the realization that there were some blacks fighting the Nazi’s in WW2 that I encourage you all to support this movie regardless of my score and complaints within the next few paragraphs.  Red Tails has some veteran acting talent and familiar names (for some of you), like Terrance Howard as Col. A.J. Bullard, and Cuba Gooding Jr. as Major Stance.

The main pilots that drive the film… or should I say fly… are David Oyelowo as Joe ‘Lightning’ Little (the best of the lot), Nate Parker as Marty ‘Easy’ Julian, Elijah Kelley as Samuel ‘Joker’ George, Ne-Yo (yes that Ne-Yo) as Andrew ‘Smokey’ Salem… who did a bang-up job acting I must say and Tristan Wilds as Ray ‘Junior’ Gannon. Lars van Riessen plays the German Ace ‘Pretty Boy’ and Daniela Ruah plays the part of Sophie, the Italian love interest.

How Hollywood Turns The Luftwaffe Into A Joke

The dogfights really bothered the hell out of me, but I know this is because I am a fan of aerial combat and a bit of a nerd when it comes to World War II. The portrayal of Nazis as weak bullies is well and good when it comes time for fantasy, but in a historical movie like this I would expect some better research into how the German Luftwaffe flew before filming what it is I saw. These fights were terrible, no real choreography was done and the simplicity in the way the Negro pilots would get behind the Germans to shoot them down was video game caliber ridiculous.

For a movie about flying I was very disappointed that more focus was not spent on the ferocity and mental aptitude taken to win in dogfight after dogfight. Red Tails took another route – giving us close-in shots of the boy’s faces as they talked throughout the fights, aerial maneuvers be damned. The film assumes the audience will suspend belief and let our imagination trick us into believing that the Tuskegee men were all ace caliber pilots… but at a glance it wasn’t that way, no, at a glance the Germans were flying targets.

Decaffeinated Racism Tastes The Best

Let’s be honest here, if you’re older than 30 you know (from movies/documentaries in the past and from the older generation) that America has been overtly racist as hell since forever. So why are these newer movies about historical events playing nice with the interactions between black and white?  

Sure you have the token racist guy in these movies but he is the great white whale – in other words it’s normally one loud racist guy and everyone else is just quiet. Red Tails is no different as we see the black pilots walk into a bar (token scene is token) and get kicked out for it being whites only… queue the great white whale who drops a “nigger” slur all by his lonesome and fist fight ensues. I know racism is a touchy subject but we do a disservice to the real men and women who were all sorts of niggers, spooks, spades and coons when they fought for this country, by presenting this watered down exchange as a representation.

For the ladies, there is some white Italian/Negro love that goes on and while it could have seemed forced (being that it had nothing to add to the story as a whole) it was actually very well done. Again David Oyelowo is the reason this worked. I would have liked to see some authentic Italian male angst at the sight of an “eggplant” walking the streets with one of their fine country-women but again… this was decaffeinated racism. Everybody was playing nice.

I’m Just Being A Nerd – Go See Red Tails

So while you’re probably at the point of saying “stopurbitchin” at my review of this little film, I will say that I appreciate the entire effort in bringing this to the big screen. Sure I can rip it apart after watching but the people around me who weren’t students of World War II and American race history seemed to really have a good time. To ask me if you should or should not see this, I would say yes – go out and see it, support it and make sure that stories like this get funded for Box Office release! While it could have been so much better, I do appreciate it for what it is.

Greg Dragon

Cinephile and opinion writer, Greg Dragon has been a fan of movies since the 80's when Kung Fu theater was all the rage and Roger Moore was James Bond. Greg is the founder and lead critic of Spicy Movie Dogs. You can follow him on Twitter @Rafacus or on his Google+ account.