'Red Tails' Draws $20 Million on Opening Weekend

Barrington M. Salmon | 1/24/2012, 1:01 p.m.

It is that issue Fauntroy raised about whether this movie will open Hollywood's doors and closed minds that is percolating in varied circles.

Alexander, who made a failed bid for mayor in 2010, said black Americans lost a golden opportunity to send Hollywood a message.

"I was reading some of the comments I saw on the movie and I found that Red Tails made $19.1million and it was being compared to Perry's Madea Goes to Jail which made $42 million. What people are doing is comparing a movie with historical value and one with no redeeming value at all," he said. I wondered if this is the state of Black America. We blew an opportunity to really show Hollywood that we want to see more than coons, men in drag and thugs. That's all they think we like. I'm excited and I'm looking forward to the sequel."

Lucas said he plans to produce a trilogy of stories on the airmen. He has argued quite convincingly that the story portrayed in the movie needed to be made, and Lane Wallace in a Jan 20, column in The Atlantic Magazine, agrees.

"I understand why George Lucas became so passionate about telling the story of the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II ... both the story, and the Tuskegee pilots themselves, are extraordinary," Lane said. "At the beginning of World War II, blacks were not allowed to serve as pilots in the military. A 1925 U.S. Army War College report had gone so far as deeming them not just inferior, but also incapable of operating complex machinery. But the country desperately needed more pilots. So a small training program for black pilots was initiated at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. It was called the "Tuskegee Experiment" because the Air Corps brass fully expected the men in the program--many of whom were college-educated and quite accomplished--to fail. Some of the early white instructors in the program, in fact, tried to make sure that outcome came to pass."

Lane further explains that some of the pilots told her some instructors volunteered for the program because they believed in it, while others did it in an attempt to block the airmen from succeeding.

The program faced the constant threat of being closed down, said Lane, a pilot, author and entrepreneur. But through the efforts of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and the steely determination of General Benjamin Oliver Davis, Jr., commanding officer of the Tuskegee fighter pilots in Europe, the "Tuskegee Experiment" survived. In the beginning of 1944, when enough pilots had graduated from the Tuskegee program to form an entire fighter group (four fighter squadrons), they were deployed to Italy, where the 332nd fighter group served as a segregated unit within the 15th Air Force.

Because of their outstanding record of protecting bombers, by the end of the war, there were bomber crews specifically requesting the 332nd Red Tail pilots as their escorts, Lane said.

CNN Commentator Roland Martin offered a scathing critique of the Hollywood whitewash in a Jan 14 opinion piece titled, "Hollywood's Irrational Allergy to Black Films."