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On A Wing And A (Box-Office) Prayer: The Racialicious Review Of Red Tails

By Guest Contributor Kendra James

[Note: The version of the film I saw was a screener in NYC about two weeks ago, and I'm writing this having not seen the final Jan 20th release. If anything has drastically changed (like –I hope-- the horrid opening credits sequence in bold, unevenly placed red text) I invite notes about that via comments!]

Based on this weekend’s box-office totals, a fair number of you might already have seen Red Tails, but for those who want to proceed without major spoilers, the basics:

  • The summary, as provided by IMDB: “A crew of African American pilots in the Tuskegee training program, having faced segregation while kept mostly on the ground during World War II, are called into duty under the guidance of Col. A.J. Bullard,” is fairly accurate.
  • There hasn’t been a movie screaming, “GEORGE LUCAS MADE ME!” this loudly since Attack of the Clones. Sometimes, it isn’t a bad thing. (And since Lucas, the film’s executive producer, recently claimed this is as close to Episode VII as we’ll ever get, maybe that’s what he was aiming for.)
  • Red Tails features a wonderful young cast of black actors who should be on all our radars. You’ll feel better for having a little Nate Parker in your life– and don’t be ashamed if you have flashbacks to the first time you saw Will Smith in Air Force gear in Independence Day. It’s okay, you’re not alone.

For all the red tape and controversy surrounding its release, Red Tails doesn’t explicitly touch upon race as much as it could. Yes, there are the requisite scenes where older, white members of the army tell Bullard (Terrance Howard) that negro pilots can’t ever be expected to fly proper cover for his white bomber pilots; a scene where one of the Tuskegee crew, Joe “Lightning” (David Oyelowo) Little, gets into a fight with white airmen inside their Whites Only soldiers’ bar; and be sure to listen for any and all references of “Black Jesus.” Race is certainly mentioned, and important part of the film. But given the time period, are there other racial issues they could have given a platform? And should the film be chastised for silencing the experience of all African-Americans of the era – specifically women?

More detailed SPOILERS are under the cut.

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