Monday, January 30, 2012
Red Tails - My Take
Opening weekend, I hightailed it to the movie theater to see Red Tails—the fictionalized account of the infamous Tuskegee Airmen. As a lover of stories that demonstrate the ability to not only transcend, but also transform one’s circumstances even in the face of severe adversity, I was excited about seeing the movie. But I left the theater muddling through a mixture of emotions; I liked it, but I didn’t love it. I wanted more than I got.
From watching an interview with George Lucas, the executive producer, I know that he wanted to create a work that honored American, particularly African-American heroes, but the light-hearted nature of the film watered down the trials and tribulations of men who were fighting two wars: one abroad and one at home. These brave men (and women) were up against an enemy who believed in racial superiority while fighting for a country that promoted its own brand of racial subjugation through its segregated military forces. Lucas said he didn’t want the men to be viewed as victims, but a more in-depth look into their lives would have made them even bigger Victors, not Victims.
Because Red Tails is a war movie, the interracial storyline was unnecessary and unbelievable. If any woman’s story should have been told it should have been that of Mary McLeod Bethune using her friendship with then first lady Eleanor Roosevelt to solicit support from President Franklin D. Roosevelt to create training programs for Black pilots. Instead we get the philandering, angry, rebellious soldier who finds love in the arms of an Italian woman hanging laundry on a rooftop that he saw from his plane even though neither of them speaks the other’s language. Maybe Lucas, who is in an interracial relationship wanted us to believe in the symbolic gesture of love conquering all and maybe it does . . . but not in this movie.
And while I’m on the subject of women, where were the Black women? You mean to tell me there were no mothers, wives or daughters waiting at home? There was a reference made to a wife and child of the missing solider in the film, so why not show a scene where she’s home longing for a letter that doesn’t come. That would have been more realistic. Red Tails paints a positive picture of Black men at a time when their vilification and /or victimization are an integral part of the daily news cycle. I get it. But you cannot uplift the image of the African-American man by stepping on the neck of African-American woman. To not show even one Black woman continues to negate our history in this country.
There is no History without Her story, and there is no one way of looking at history. It is not His Story—the story of White America. As a nation, we have to move beyond thinking of stories like the Tuskegee Airmen as Black history. Black history is American History and we need to get that into our heads. The fact that Lucas felt like he needed to make a plea for people to come out and support the film is a poor reflection on American culture in this pretend place of post-racialness that promotes the idea that mainstream America is White America. A movie with an all white cast is mainstream, but a movie that features people of color is put in an ethnic box as if it will only appeal to people of that ethnicity. A few years ago, a two-fer film was released: Our Family Wedding a comedy that was aimed at African Americans and Latinos about what happens when an African American marries a Latino. Even the film, Something New about a Black woman dating a White man was marketed to Black moviegoers. Why in 2012 does mainstream still equal White people? Where does that leave the rest of us?
I have seen so many good films done by various artists of color that play to very small audiences. I am constantly disappointed by the lack of support for films that may feature non-white actors, but nevertheless tell beautiful stories that are universal in their appeal. Isn’t that where we’re supposed to be headed down the path of diversity toward accepting and embracing each others' differences?
Despite some of my disappointment with the film, I am still glad that I went. I have two great nephews—6 and 15. And when the six-year old was having animated discussion with his older cousin about the film, and later the fifteen-year old and I talk about the film on the way home, I know that they know a little bit more about their history in this country than they did before they went, and for that I am grateful. In this age of finger-tip research, I believe that the conversation of Red Tails and the Tuskegee Airmen is one that will continue for some time. Any opportunity to fill in the blanks or color in history that has been whited out is one that is victorious for us all.