At the start of 2012 we went to the AMC (former Star) Holland 8 theatre to see War Horse, the weather was not pleasant (DW). January ebbed and February dawned with a bizarre warmish weather pattern. I walked into the theatre today in shirtsleeves, since it was a short walk.
Red Tails [PG-13]
Holland 8 Theatre 8, 2:20pm, 2×$6.75
The title of this post comes as a rebuff to the idiotic quote, prominently featured at the beginning of the movie, that "Negroes are incapable of handling complex machinery." I've been waiting to see this movie since I saw the first trailer. The Tuskegee Airmen are an amazing piece of WWII history. And since this opened while I was off at ConFusion, for the first time since Amistad, there was a movie worth seeing that I wanted to see during Black History Month, some lackluster reviews notwithstanding. With George Lucas involved, I knew it would look fantastic -- I hoped the rest of the movie would work as well.
In 1995 HBO released The Tuskegee Airmen, which looked at the origins of the unit, early North Africa service by the 99th Pursuit Squadron and the formation of the 332nd Fighter Group operating out of Italy. Breaking with a bad habit of many of the comic book superhero movies, Red Tails chose not to do an origin story, instead starting in Italy with the 332nd looking for its place, its mission.
I suspect that it would help if the average viewer knew something of the history of the Tuskegee Airmen. Or WWII air campaign movies. Or the shocking performance of those German Me-262 jets. There are few As You Know, Bob, conversations.
One side plot involves the courting of an Italian girl, played by Daniela Ruah of NCIS: Lite. I kept waiting for someone to object to this relationship, to try and break it up -- but they chose not to go that route. I am conflicted as to whether this works, but it is sweet. Still, it illustrates the one side of Red Tails, which seems to dwell on characters and tropes out of Central Casting and Central Scripting. There is, to some extent, just one dastardly Nazi German pilot -- nicknamed Pretty Boy. Then there's the Stalag 18 sub-plot, which again pulls on things you should already know. Are they trying to make this just another war movie? Or keep the story from being All About Color All The Time?
Perhaps this odd confluence IS what's needed to make the oh-so-obvious-in-2012 points about the abilities of the Negro/colored/black man to serve, to train, to succeed, to live, to do the same as anyone else.
Look, I loved this movie. In just over two hours they showed some of the Pentagon machinations, terrific leadership roles by Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding, Jr., and some nice teases of the hard work by the plane maintainers. Beautiful production values. I'm not sure I recall a WWII movie where the metal mats used to control the mud become almost a minor character -- including their distinctive sound.
Perhaps paired with The Tuskegee Airmen, Red Tails makes for an important story arc in WWII stories. Certainly the bombardier who wrote a letter to the Grand Rapids Press last week objected to some of the criticism of the movie. He pointed out that the bomber crews did in fact prefer the 332nd escorts, who stayed and protected the large vulnerable bombers. And that their attempts to thank them were forbidden by the Army, which allowed neither colored airmen on a white base or whites on the colored base.
While nearly seventy years of history haven't erased racism in America, at least some levels of this idiocy have been vanquished. And we need to know about the Tuskegee Airmen and hear more of their stories. Still, I don't know enough to know how this plays outside of WWII film buffs.