You Should Watch Films

A celebration, meditation, rumination, and examination of the movie-going experience.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Red Tails: The Legend of the Tuskegee Airmen

RED TAILS is a very important film, but almost entirely for political reasons. African-American history is full of struggles and triumphs, pain and glory. A film which mythologizes that history has an extremely delicate balancing act to pull off. MALCOLM X. GLORY. ROOTS. All works of great length, gravitas and grit. So, how does a 2-hour action adventure fit into these? Not easily.

Hemingway and Lucas essentially co-directed this film, with a great cast that does their best to craft the Tuskegee Airmen story into a modern legend. However, should this story be treated like, say THE UNTOUCHABLES treated Ness vs. Capone, or Westerns and other genres treat historical figures? I think it can be pulled off, but Lucas' brand of myth and the 332nd's fight for respect is an uneasy mix.

I was thrilled by the dogfighting, and I can't remember seeing an all-Black film with a production value this high. The film is almost retro in its characterization, dialogue and simplification of the battles of the Airmen, akin to war films of the late 40's and 50's. But will a modern audience accept that? Will they watch a big-budget, sanitized Black war film (and should they)? Can they have fun while watching what is essentially a Civil Rights action movie? I sure hope so, because I did.

Red Tails is exactly the film it sets out to be. The film is intentional in its presentation, and frankly it's up to the filmmakers to make sure that the audience understands the tone. Unfortunately, Red Tails may be ill-served by its marketing, as even Black audience members will be expecting a film with more grit and anger, which this film is not.

In fact, some may say that a kinetic, adventurous tone is unfit for a story such as that of the Tuskegee Airmen. The great thing about cinema is you can tell any story any way you please. An Italian comedy about the Holocaust. A drama about the making of Facebook. A farm boy leading a rebel alliance against an evil empire. Only thing is, you better be pretty damn good at it.

I'm triply biased towards Red Tails; Hemingway (TREME), McGruder (THE BOONDOCKS) and Lucas. The crew attempted to make a Black film for everyone to watch, and they succeed, for the most part. This is the Legend of The Tuskegee Airmen, the Tale of the 332nd. I recommend it, but not without a number of caveats. Yes, it can be cheesy, at times. Yes, the dialogue can be pat and wooden, at times. And yes, there are hits and misses. But dammit if I wasn't inspired by the end of it.

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