“Red Tails,” a film about the World War II experiences of the first black fighter pilots, puts emphasis on action and combat, playing down the the historical significance of the Tuskegee Airmen troop of fighter pilots.
Before the Tuskegee Airmen, the 332nd fighter group, there were no black pilots in the military, but the movie neglects any detail of the struggle it took for them to reach this goal. The movie is a superhero-like depiction of the Airmen and does not explain the need for an all-black troop, leaving the audience to make their own assumptions without appropriate background knowledge.
This history is important, not only to the storyline, but also to the process producer George Lucas took to create the film. Because of its content, Lucas struggled to get major production companies to fund the film, and based on the struggle of the film’s production, moviegoers’ interest in the movie was piqued.
The lack of historical content hurt the film for those longing for a historically significant production. Although there are some scenes where characters are placed in uncomfortable situations because of their race, they only skim the surface, and the film takes a common route in its portrayal of racial issues in America.
The film opens with the soldiers doing their daily commands, using inadequate planes and nowhere near the battlefield. The young men share camaraderie in their love for flying, but also frustration in their lack of opportunity to see combat like their white peers.
With Colonel A.J. Bullard (Terrence Howard), the men have a high-ranking officer working to get them better treatment. However, he experiences difficulty getting the men combat orders because the higher-ranking white officers think the black pilots are inadequate.
Although the film lacks some substance, the characters bring an element of empathy to the film. Different struggles, such as alcoholism, pride, confidence, racism and love make it easy to care about the characters.
Ray Gannon (Tristan Wilds) and Joe Little (David Oyelowo) struggle with their decision-making, which jeopardizes their safety.
Once the men are finally given an opportunity to participate in combat, the audience receives the big battle scenes many longed for. However, the film is over without an exploration of the effects of the long-term treatment of blacks in the military and without any discussion of the transition the Airmen faced after they returned to the United States in the midst of the Civil Rights movement.
Depending on one’s love for action or appreciation of history, the film garners mixed reviews, but based on its efforts to draw the audience into the characters and for being unique in showing an all-black cast with superhero-like personas, it satisfies a desire to see a good film while leaving one wishing the filmmakers focused more on story development than action.
Unless Lucas only wants to capture moviegoers who already know the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, the film lacks the historical background and therefore leaves out important information for uninformed moviegoers. However, the film may completely satisfy those looking for quality young actors, action and a war tale.