When Star Wars creator George Lucas started putting together Red Tails in 1988, he was met by countless block stops along the way. He ended up financing most of the movie with his own money in part because Hollywood is reluctant to finance a film made with an all-black cast as it sees little market for such films overseas.
“This has been held up for release since 1942, since it was shot,” Lucas joked in one interview before the movie’s release. Then he bluntly added, “It’s because it’s an all-black movie. There’s no major white roles in it at all…I showed it to all of them and they said, ‘Noooo. We don’t know how to market a move like this.'”
But the director/producer went through with its making as since his Star War days, he had dreamed of making a movie about this band of men who emerged heroes in a society steeped with racial discrimination. From the start, Red Tails had placed emphasis on colored people’s capabilities that are in par with their white counterparts, that they could do heroic acts, too, and can stand to fight for their country.
However, with this strong themes drenched over all the movie, is it worth the watch?
The movie focused on the adventures of the 332nd Fighter Group which was based in Italy in 1944 headed by Major Emmanuel Stance played by actor Cuba Gooding, Jr. While his team fought against Germans, he fought the enemy in Pentagon – the army leaders who were eyeing the Tuskegee program and the people involved in it with disdain thinking colored soldiers are inferior soldiers.
Even though the story behind the movie is true, the characters in it were all fictional. The plot runs along the predictable but great mill of being underdogs, the big break, the success against the enemies and victory in the battlefield and in the eyes of their critics with medals to prove their success.
Red Tails’ Merits as a Movie
There are many films hailing the heroism of the airmen who belonged to the Tuskegee program during WWII. Red Tails, presently, becomes the most noted among these maybe because George Lucas is involved in it and he had embarked in a promotion blitz to build it up.
Nevertheless, that does not change the fact that the movie bordered on the mediocre – yes, it was a movie with strong historical merits but again, the dialogue, the movie script, the characters and plot development are all middling.
The movie’s overall impact lacks drama which its background is rich in, it is set during World War II after all. One-liners from the movie seems to be taken from Star Wars itself. Retorts of “How do you like that, Mr. Hitler?” and “Watch out, Hitler, here we come!” from the main characters of the movie answered by the movie’s primary antagonist, who was nicknamed by the Tuskegee Airmen as Pretty Boy, with his own exclamation of “Die, you foolish African!” are just plainly and horribly so-so.
There is a less known movie about the Tuskegee program released in 1995 by HBO as a TV movie. Compared to George Lucas’ Red Tails, Tuskegee Airmen has the same elements as the former but is a better make than it – it has some, if not all, missing flavors lost in the George Lucas film.
Ironically, Cuba Gooding, Jr. is in this movie, too, though he played as one of the Tuskegee pilots in it.
This is not at all a personal preference. Rotten Tomatoes had rated Tuskegee Airmen with a higher 83% rate compared to Red Tails’ 40% rate.