LOS ANGELES, January 21, 2012—Black soldiers who fought in WWII had two enemies: Germany and racism.
The recently released film, Red Tails (20th Century Fox), starring Cuba Gooding, Jr., is the story of the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group of the U.S. Army Air Corps, and their fight against racism and for respect while serving their country.
The group is colloquially known as the “Tuskegee Airmen,” so named for the city in Macon County, Alabama, where they trained. The movie takes its name from the group’s nickname of “Red Tails,” earned because the pilots would paint the tails of their P-47 Thunderbolts red in order to easily identify each other.
This corps was remarkably effective as bomber escorts over France, with the lighter weight Thunderbolts providing protection and skillfully engaging the enemy, ensuring that the lumbersome bomber aircraft, with their precious and deadly cargo, would get to their drop zone and back.
The men of the 322nd Fighter Group preserved the lives of their fellow airmen, who referred to them a “Red Tail Angels” for the lives they saved, the men who returned from missions due to the group’s prowess as aviators and soldiers. Sadly, while revered in the air, they were treated with little or no respect on the ground. Jim Crow laws and discrimination where strong both in civilian life and on the Army base, regardless of how many lives the Tuskegee Airmen saved.
At the heart of Red Tails is this immoral dichotomy. In one scene, the commanding officers of the group are attempting to characterize the value of their assigned mission while recognizing that even though they risk their lives to save white soldiers, they must still disprove the theory that Blacks do not have the same level of ‘intellect’ as white men.
The making of Red Tails illustrates a truth that still exists today: Social concerns must sometimes be dealt with by political means. If the government’s response to social matters is inadequate, the moral issues will escalate. We have seen this not only in the overt racism against these Black airmen, but in the subtle racism of the Democratic party, which diminishes the humanity of Blacks by blanketing them in government dependency programs and by implying that leaving the party is racial betrayal.
This is why the story of the Tuskegee Airmen is so important. It provides a historical look at the reality of racism and it highlights how we as a people continue to triumph over it.
Jerry Hodges, the 86-year-old president of the Tuskegee Airman Scholarship Foundation, remarked that the film is “not too far from being realistic.” Mr. Hodges, an original Tuskegee Airman—a Red Tail—who flew PT-17 and PT-13 planes, learned to fly B-25 bombers at Tuskegee. He was assigned to the 617th Bomber Squadron and the 477th Bomber Group. He proudly attended the Red Tails Los Angeles premier with three other Tuskegee Airmen.
He personally witnessed the triumphs that the audience could only marvel at.
At the premier, the Tuskegee Airmen expressed the wish that young people would learn about the courage of men who fought in the war, the good times and bonds formed between soldiers, and the Black people’s continuing struggles for equality.
These men lived during racism’s darkest days and lived long enough to triumph over both a wartime enemy and racism.
George Lucas, best known for his Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies and his collaborations with Steven Spielberg, produced and financed the film. He says that he found it exceedingly difficult to obtain mainstream studio support for the film because studios felt that films with a primarily Black cast would not have audience support domestically or internationally.
Believing in the story, Lucas gambled on the film, personally financing fifty-percent of the budget to get it to the screen.
Judging by the lines this weekend, his gamble paid off. Like the 1995 HBO Home Entertainment Film The Tuskegee Airmen (Laurence Fishburn, Cuba Gooding, Jr.) Red Tails examines the evil of racism and the need to continue the fight against it.
Red Tails, thanks to Mr. Lucas, teaches a new generation about the history of the struggle.
This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.