‘Red Tails’ fly high on history
In February 1914, D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” became the first feature film ever to be privately screened for a U.S. President. In January 2012, George Lucas’s “Red Tails” became the first feature film ever to be privately screened for two U.S. Presidents when Howard University in Washington, D.C., screened the movie to a select audience that included both President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush.
There is an irony in these two history-making films. The former was a piece of revisionist history-bending propaganda that was specifically designed to instill negative images of African Americans in the minds of white Americans. The latter is a masterpiece of accurately portrayed and little-known history of the most successful group of pilots in U.S. history. This group of pilots–the Tuskegee airmen–just happen to be African Americans credited with giving the Allied forces in World War II a decisive advantage over the Nazis.
And while “Red Tails” can be considered the first Hollywood action film with an all-black cast, the story behind the making of this movie is just as intriguing and exciting. The original screenplay was written over 25 years ago by Aaron McGruder, the creator of “The Boondocks,” after he learned about the Tuskegee Airmen as a teenager.
Using the success of both his daily newspaper comic strip and his television cartoon, he approached George Lucas, the creator of “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones,” about two years later and sold him on the idea of making the movie. George attempted repeatedly, and unsuccessfully, to get the minor Hollywood film company to finance the film. He was told that a film with an all-black cast and dealing with the subject matter would not generate enough revenue to justify financing it. So, George Lucas financed the film independently to the tune of over $70 million. And he even hired all of the then surviving 23 Tuskegee Airmen to serve as consultants to him during the making of the movie.
This dramatic action film chronicles the historic feats of the 332nd Fighter Group that flew P-51 Mustangs with distinctively painted red tails during World War II. These fighter pilots are known today as the courageous Tuskegee Airmen. They were the only group of pilots during the war that never lost a plane.
The 332nd spent most of their time on the ground in an extensive experimental training program located in Tuskegee, Ala. The Pentagon continued to find reasons (most likely related to segregation) to not let the Tuskegee Airmen fly until the Nazis introduced the world’s first fighter jet which began to increase their superior flying power.
Finally, these African American pilots would get their chance to prove themselves while fighting for their country.
This is not the first feature film on this topic. However, it is the first in which the real Tuskegee Airmen were actually paid consultants to ensure authenticity. George Lucas also produced a documentary to accompany the release of “Red Tails,” entitled “Double Victory.” It will debut on the History Channel and H2 (the History Channel’s sister station) Jan. 20.