Red Tails follows the story of the Tuskegee airmen in World War II. The squadron is made up of African American pilots, thought to be unable to fly in battle, but they prove themselves under the guidance of Colenel A.J. Bullard (Terrence Howard)
It is hard to believe that Red Tails was co-written by Aaron McGruder, the man who criticised Jar Jar Binks in Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace for playing on negative African American stereotypes. The African American men portrayed in Red Tails are more than just a little stereotypical. Yes, they are out there fighting the good fight and representing the African American skilled foces, but one of them carries a picture of black Jesus, and much of the dialogue is incredibly stereotypical.
Putting this aside, however, the story of the Tuskegee airmen is a great one; rather than allow the issues of segregation that plagues America to stop them, these men went out and flew expertly; proving themselves to be invaluable to the Allied fight. The problem with this version of the story is that it gets so wrapped up in its own earnestness and a desire to be heartwarming that is actually comes off as hokey.
There is no doubt that the fight scenes are incredibly entertaining, even if George Lucas has decided to approach the movie in a comic book style. The dogfights and chase sequences are exhilarating to watch, and it is easy to see why George Lucas wanted to tell this story for such a long time (the movie originally went into development in 1988). At the heart of Red Tails there is a great story; boys becoming men, love being thwarted and leaders learning the value of their men, but it somehow gets lost in the midst of the spectacular fight sequences and underdeveloped characters.
There are many issues with the film. Red Tails could easily have been told with the honesty and sincerity of The Help – with planes – but the characters come off as one note, and while the audience may not actively want to see them die, there is no huge outpouring of grief when they inevitably do. Most of the characters are given one ‘hook’ or piece of action, and they repeat it until they learn their lesson; one man finally overcomes his alcoholism, another learns the value of love over desire… You get the idea.
Red Tails was shown on the beach at the Cannes Film Festival a couple of weeks ago and, as such, it is a perfect beach movie. The novelty of the viewing experience adds to the action on screen and enhances the film.
The story of the Tuskegee Airmen has been addressed before – most notably in Flags of our Father and The Tuskegee Airmen – and there is little doubt that there is a story of value within the film, but it is eclipsed by underdeveloped characters and over developed fight scenes.