If you are planning to see the new George Lucas film Red Tails, you better hurry, because I don’t think this flick will be in theaters very long. I predict that it will very quickly be shot down like the Me 262 jet airplane that is shot down by Joe “Lighting” Little, a Negro pilot with the Tuskegee Airmen, who is the hero of the movie.
Before you get all upset by my use of the word “Negro,” it was pointed out in the movie that African-Americans preferred the term Negro over the term “colored” which was used by whites. This is news to me. I was 11 years old when this story was happening in 1944 and it is my opinion that both blacks and whites used the term “colored” which was pronounced “cull-ed.” The word Negro was only used in a sentence which also had the word Caucasian.
The reason that I think that Red Tails will not be a big hit is because it will appeal to a very limited audience. This is not a “date movie.” Women will stay away from it in droves.
The basic premiss of the movie is that black people are superior to whites, but white racists in America would not allow them to fight in World War II until 1944 when black pilots were needed to win the war against the German racists. There were other black soldiers who fought in World War II, but unlike the Tuskegee Airmen, they were commanded by white officers. The movie is set in 1944, but filmed though a 2012 lens which shows that the African-Americans back then were no different from white people.
The movie has an all-male cast, except for one Italian girl who is the love interest in the movie. “Lighting” spots her on a rooftop as he is flying over the pristine Italian countryside which shows no war damage. She waves at him and he comes back later and knocks on her door. He speaks no Italian and she speaks no English, but they manage to fall in love and get married. Her Italian dialogue is not translated. Only the German words in the movie have sub-titles. What’s up with that?
The movie begins with a quote from a study done in 1925 which claimed that “blacks are inferior to whites.” This is quickly followed by a disclaimer: “Inspired by a true story.” In other words, what you are about to see is not totally true, but we’re not going to tell you which part is not true. The title of the movie comes from the fact that the Tuskegee Airmen painted the tails of their planes bright red. The Me 262 jet planes are decorated with yellow paint.
Red Tails is about the all-black 332nd Fighter Squadron which was assigned to protect U.S. bombers on a bombing mission to Berlin in 1944. Nothing is mentioned about Berlin already being bombed into a pile of rubble before 1944. However, in 1944 Germany had Me 262 jet fighter planes in the air, so this bombing mission was different. The Tuskegee Airmen were flying P51 planes.
This movie is not about history; it is about the African-American heroes of World War II. If this were a history movie, it would have been pointed out that the Germans delayed getting their jet planes into the air because Hitler disagreed with his generals about the best use of the jet planes. Hitler wanted the Me 262 to be a bomber plane, not a fighter plane. If the Germans had used the Me 262 as a fighter plane sooner, all the American planes would have been shot out of the sky and Germany would have had a better chance of winning the war.
The movie does not mention Herman Goering, the head of the Luftwaffe, the German air force. According to this website, “In the early part of the war, he remarked, “If Allied planes ever bomb Berlin, you can call me Meyer.” Later on [when] they did, escorted by P-51 Mustangs, he observed, “When I saw Mustangs over Berlin, I knew the jig was up.” It was the Tuskegee Airmen who were flying those Mustangs.
On the day that I saw the movie, about 90% of the people in the audience were African-American. I did not see any young people in the audience. It was mostly older men. However, this is not an old folks movie: it is more like watching a video game. I have recently started watching The Big Bang Theory TV series, which is about a group of nerds who hang out together. Red Tails is a movie that will appeal to young men like the cast of The Big Bang Theory.
In my humble opinion, George Lucas should have given more thought to what his target audience would be. Instead, he made a movie that has very limited appeal. It is like Star Wars for black people.
To me, one of the faults of the movie is the dialogue. The actors appear to be trying to speak like black people in 1944, but they are not quite getting it right. At one point, someone uses the expression “man-up.” I never heard anyone say “man-up” until about a year ago.
I looked up the Tuskegee Airmen on Wikipedia and found this information:
In all, 996 pilots were trained in Tuskegee from 1941 to 1946, approximately 445 were deployed overseas, and 150 Airmen lost their lives in accidents or combat. The casualty toll included 66 pilots killed in action or accidents, and 32 fallen into captivity as prisoners of war.
The Tuskegee Airmen were credited by higher commands with the following accomplishments:
15,533 combat sorties, 1578 missions
112 German aircraft destroyed in the air, another 150 on the ground
950 railcars, trucks and other motor vehicles destroyed
One destroyer sunk
A good record of protecting U.S. bombers, losing only 25 on hundreds of missions.
Individual pilots of the 332nd Fighter Group also earned approximately 1000 awards and decorations. Their missions took them to Rome-Arno, Normandy, Rhineland, Romania, Northern and Southern France, and the American Theater Campaigns. The 332nd first saw combat in February 1944. Throughout various engagements over the course of the war, the 332nd was credited with destroying at least: 112 airborne enemy aircraft, 150 aircraft on the ground, over 600 train cars, over 40 barges/boats, and a German Navy destroyer. The destruction of the Navy destroyer was the first such accomplishment of its time.
So which part of the movie is not true? My guess is that it is the part about a black pilot who was captured and sent to a POW camp where he is welcomed by the white POWs who are planning to escape by tunneling out of the camp.
In the scene where German soldiers are shown speaking to the POWs, the Germans are being very polite. I think this portrayal is accurate. I give George Lucas a few points for not showing a lot of German-hatred, although there is some hatred in his portrayal of the German pilots.
The pejorative term for a German pilot in the movie is “Jerry.” I don’t think that was the term used in America. The English called a German soldier a Jerry because the German helmets looked like a chamberpot. The pejorative term for Germans in America was “kraut.” Also, the term “Dutch” which was an incorrect pronounciation of the German word “Deutsch.” There was a song that went: “There’s the high land Dutch, and the low land Dutch, the Rotterdam Dutch and all the other damned Dutch…”
The black pilots call the German pilots “pretty boy.” I think that this is a modern term. However, this term is actually a compliment. Those German guys were very handsome. By using this term, it is implied that black men were jealous of white people because of their looks. I detect that the script for the movie was written by a young person who was not familiar with the language used during World War II. At one point, a white officer calls one of the black heroes “arrogant.” The term that was used back then was “uppity.”
Update: Jan 22, 2012
A reader of this blog, who has his own blog here, provided a link to an article in the Jewish Journal which tells about the Tuskegee Airmen and the refusal of the Allies to bomb Auschwitz during World War II.
This quote is from the article:
On the morning of Aug. 20, 1944, a group of 127 U.S. bombers called Flying Fortresses approached Auschwitz. They were escorted by 100 Mustang fighter planes. Most of the Mustangs were piloted by Tuskegee Airmen of the 332nd Fighter Group. The attacking force dropped more than one thousand 500-pound bombs on oil targets less than five miles from the gas chambers. Despite German anti-aircraft fire and a squadron of German fighter planes, none of the Mustangs were hit and only one of the U.S. planes was shot down. All of the units reported successfully hitting their targets. […]
Even though there were additional U.S. bombing raids on German industrial sites in that region in the weeks and months to follow, the gas chambers and crematoria were never targeted.
The Roosevelt administration knew about the mass murder going on in Auschwitz, and even possessed diagrams of the camp that were prepared by two escapees. But when Jewish organizations asked the Roosevelt administration to order the bombing of the camp and the railways leading to it, the requests were rejected. U.S. officials claimed such raids were “impracticable” because they would require “considerable diversion” of planes needed for the war effort.
But the Tuskegee veterans know that claim was false. They were right there in the skies above Auschwitz. No “diversion” was necessary to drop a few bombs on the mass-murder machinery or the railways leading into the camp. Sadly, those orders were never given.
The decision to refrain from bombing Auschwitz was part of a broader policy by the Roosevelt administration to refrain from taking action to rescue Jews from the Nazis or provide havens for them. The U.S. did not want to deal with the burden of caring for large numbers of refugees. And its ally, Great Britain, would not open the doors to Palestine to the Jews, for fear of angering Arab opinion. The result was that the Allies failed to confront one of history’s most compelling moral challenges.