The Movie “Red Tails” Shows Black Heroes With Brass Balls

Here's a break for everyone tired of African Americans playing the roles of drug dealer and gangbanger.

The United States military’s official line as set forth by the Army War College was quite clear: Because the “Negro soldier is lacking in physical courage and psychological characteristics,” he is “inherently inferior to the white soldier.” Therefore, blacks in World War II were assigned subordinate, menial, and even demeaning tasks, while whites were celebrated as national heroes.

But then something happened. The Nazis started winning, just like the South had started winning the Civil War and the Redcoats had started winning the Revolutionary War. Help was needed. And that help came not from white guys wearing white hats on white horses, but from black guys wearing leather aviator caps often in red-tailed planes. This is quite similar to what happened when the Black Regiments, and later the U.S. Colored Troops, fortunately saved us all from forever having to speak with pompous British accents and backwoods Southern drawls—and also from having to deal with that irritating taxation without representation thing and that inconvenient slavery thing, too.

The tide-turning heroism of the courageous African-American World War II pilots started when the War Department reversed its racist stupidity, began the Civilian Pilot Training Program in May 1940, and, in January 1941, designated the 99th Pursuit Squadron to be manned by black pilots graduating from Tuskegee Army Airfield in Alabama. Tuskegee Institute had been selected because of its well-established commitment to aeronautical training and because it had the facilities, the engineering instructors and the climate for all-season flying. By the way, the “Tuskegee Airmen” label was not just for the 99th Pursuit Squadron pilots, or just for the 332nd Fighter Group, or just for the 477th Bombardment Group. It necessarily and respectfully included everyone involved in the entire Tuskegee Experiment headed by the Army Air Corps Program to both train blacks to fly and also to maintain, service and document combat aircraft.

The new film, Red Tails, which opens today and which tells the powerful edge-of-your-seat, heart-pounding, roller-coaster story of the Tuskegee Airmen, features talented black professionals on-screen.

But even more important, it features talented black professionals off-screen, including screenwriters Aaron McGruder of the provocatively and hilariously enlightening The Boondocks and John Ridley of the harrowing and moving 12 Years a Slave about a kidnapped black man in 1851. Additionally featured behind the scenes is director Anthony Hemingway of the cutting-edge, cable-TV dramas The Wire and Treme. Also, the musical soundtrack is by world-renowned composer and trumpeter Terence Blanchard who’s worked with Spike Lee. The co-executive producer is Charles Floyd Johnson who has produced 15 successful commercial TV series. And the other co-executive producer is George Lucas—who has been awarded the laudatory title of honorary black man as a result of selflessly spending $58 million of his $3.2 billion to finance the filming of this historic story that needed to be told and that Hollywood bigwigs refused since 1942 to fund solely because, in his words, it was a nearly an “all-black movie … (with) no major white roles in it at all.” What? No Great White Father? No white man as The Man? No black gangbangers or drug dealers? No cross-dressing emasculated black men? No mind-numbingly shallow, even pointless, scripts? Nope. Well, you get no money then. Come back later when you have some Tyler Perry bullshit, and we’ll give you the key to the vault. But I digress.

Red Tails proudly tells the story of just a few of the 944 African American aviators who graduated from Tuskegee and who flew 1,578 death-defying missions and 15,533 ice-water-in-the-veins sorties in their B-25 Mitchells, P-39s, P-40s, P-47s, and P-51s—the latter of which had distinctive red markings on their rear end, hence the name Red Tails. These men went from being viewed by the U.S. military in particular and the white American public in general as sub-par and sub-human to superior and supreme. That explains why they won numerous battle-related awards including, but not limited to, the Legion of Merit, Purple Heart, Distinguished Flying Cross, and Congressional Gold Medal for a total of 744. These were the real “Top Guns” (sorry, Tom Cruise) during and after the war. In fact, on May 2, 1949, Tuskegee Airmen Capt. Alva Temple, Lt. Col. Harry Stewart, Lt. Col. James H. Harvey III, alternate pilot Halbert Alexander, and crew chief Staff Sgt. Buford Johnson in their P-47N Thunderbolts won the first-ever U.S. Air Force Weapons Meet to claim the official title of the “First Top Guns.” And this was not solely because of their expert pilotage as fighters but also because of the skill and trustworthiness of their on-ground staff.

Although today’s few survivors are obviously quite old, their story resonates with young black folks today. Red Tails is filled with young black men, and in 2007, 23-year-old African American Barrington Irving, who said he was inspired by the Tuskegee Airmen, broke a world record by becoming the youngest—and the first black—pilot ever to fly solo around the world.

Go see Red Tails, especially this weekend if possible so it can earn enough to become a box-office hit that could lead the Hollywood powers to green-light similar race-inspiring sensibility instead of race-insulting nonsense. But don’t stop there. Also keep the legacy of the real Tuskegee Airmen alive by becoming a member of and donating to Tuskegee Airmen. Everyone is eligible for at least one of three different membership categories. For more information, email Greater Philadelphia Chapter President Derrick Pitts at [email protected]

Today’s African American “red, black and green” pride symbol was yesterday’s African American “red, black and brass” power symbol. America—both black and white—is free because of the Tuskegee Airmen.