The highly anticipated release of "Red Tails" from the George Lucas film is finally here. Based on the heroics and real life adventures of the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II, this high-flying action adventure is an entertaining look at Black history and a "must see" for all generations. I had the honor of chatting with David Oyelowo (Lightning) and Dr. Roscoe Brown, an original Tuskegee airman, about their experiences and roles in this monumental film that took over 20 years to develop and bring to life.
This action-packed movie is executive produced by Lucas and directed by Anthony Hemingway. The well-executed storyline is brought to life by the talented cast of Hollywood's who's who, led by Oscar-winning actor Cuba Gooding Jr. and Oscar-nominated actor, Terrence Howard. This film also introduces the next generation of Hollywood's African American leading men including David Oyelowo (Lightning) and Nate Parker (Easy) and an impressive roster of talented actors.
"Red Tails" is the inspiring story of 13 cadets that participated in an experiment at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Colored personnel trained to become combat pilots in the Army Air Corps. Red Tails refers to the distinct Red Tails of the units' combat planes. This is the story of their personal challenges, experiences, trials and successes despite institutional and societal racism.
"This is an adventure movie and not a civil rights movie! It is about us overcoming the obstacle of racism with excellence and friendship, camaraderie and discipline. Those are the eternal lessons that affect anybody," said Brown.
The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American servicemen to serve as military aviators in the U.S. armed forces during World War II. The airmen's dedication to country, discipline, aviation expertise, and standard of excellence was the result of completing their training as part of the Tuskegee experiment in Tuskegee, Alabama. The Tuskegee experiment was designed to prove that Blacks or Negroes were not fit and did not have the mental or physical capacity, discipline, or courage to operate or pilot military aircraft or have any significance in military combat.
This experiment was a failure. Despite racial discrimination and segregation in the United States and abroad, these men completed their training, and with support and public pressure from the NAACP and the Black press. The first all African-American military aviators were formed in Jan. 1941—the U.S. Army Air Corps 99th Pursuit Squadron.
"Historically, African Americans have always wanted to fight for the country. Like the rough riders and men of bronze, it's in our nature traditionally that when the country has been in trouble you come to serve it. Also, there was a study that said we did not have the ability, the coordination, the intelligence or the leadership to be pilots," Brown said. "There wasn't any great expectation or great exceptions. It's just what we have always done. Because we were young and achieving we wanted to do the best job that we could. It was in our genes for us to strive for excellence!"
The Tuskegee Airmen earned 96 Distinguished Unit Citations and were awarded Silver Stars, Bronze Stars, Purple Hearts, Red Star of Yugoslavia, the Presidential Unit Citation and many other accolades. The 99th Squadron was awarded two Presidential Unit Citations (June-July 1943 and May 1944) for outstanding tactical air support and aerial combat in the 12th Air Force in Italy, before joining the 332nd Fighter Group. The highly acclaimed success of the Tuskegee Airmen led to the desegregation of the U.S. Armed Forces under President Harry Truman in 1948. The Tuskegee experiment was renamed the Tuskegee Experience due to the success of the Tuskegee Airmen. The program ended in 1949.
"For many the Tuskegee Airmen are a footnote in most people's mind. Tuskegee!" Oyelowo said. This story is important because there is something amazing about seeing young men in the prime of their lives doing something that they are designed to do. Tuskegee was a rights of passage. These young men went on to be extraordinary men. They were immortal!"