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‘Red Tails’

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It appears the first great action film of the 2012 cinema year will be dedicated to a great part of American history.

“Red Tails,” a highly anticipated action drama, is opening in theaters nationwide this weekend. It was inspired by the courageous and heroic exploits of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first all African-American aerial combat unit.

Trained on the campus of Tuskegee University in Alabama, the unit, which included pilots, mechanics and support crew, overcame a culture of racism to serve with distinction during World War II, successfully escorting many bombers in the dangerous skies of Europe. After expressing initial prejudice, some white bomber pilots came to prefer the Tuskegee Airmen as escorts, due to their success.

“Red Tails” captures the high-flying action involved in the experiences of the Tuskegee Airmen. The film features an all-star cast that includes actors Terrence Howard, Cuba Gooding Jr., Nate Parker, singer Ne-Yo and rapper Method Man.

The name of the film comes from the distinctive red tails on the P51 Mustang fighter planes used by the Tuskegee Airmen.

It is produced and largely funded by George Lucas, who is best known for presenting the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises. In a recent interview, Lucas reported that he spent $58 million of his own money on the film after several major studios expressed hesitancy about funding a project with an all-Black cast.

“I’ve been wanting to do ‘Red Tails’ for over 20 years, and we finally got the means to showcase the skill of the Tuskegee pilots,” Lucas said. “We have worked on techniques that will give us the first true look at the aerial dog fighting (combat) of the era. And our top-notch cast will really make this story special.”

In addition to its all-star cast and Lucas’ production, “Red Tails,” which was filmed in Italy, Prague and Croatia, also benefits from the contributions of director Anthony Hemmingway, whose credits include “The Wire,” “Battlestar Galactica” and “C.S.I. New York.” Other contributors and writers include John Ridley, best known for “Three Kings” and “Undercover Brother,” and “Boondocks” comic strip creator Aaron McGruder.

Cast members and surviving Tuskegee Airmen have both expressed excitement at the realistic and fast-paced action that “Red Tails” provides. They say it combines the thrills of a classic war film with the current, state-of-the-art filming techniques.

“Visually, you really feel you’re in these cockpits,” Gooding said in a statement. “Some of the dogfights in this movie really feel like the same thing we had in ‘Star Wars.’ I think the only difference is that all of the actors in the cockpits are Black, except for the Nazis trying to shoot them out of the sky.”

Colonel Charles McGee, one of the original Tuskegee Airmen who served as a technical consultant for “Red Tails,” agreed.

“It was very well done,” he said. “The combat scenes were just tremendous.”

Dr. Brian Smith, director of the Tuskegee Airmen National Museum, added that “Red Tails” finally provides an opportunity for the fighters to be presented in a way they truly operated: as superheroes.

“They actually did some superhuman things during the war,” Smith said. “Tie that together with the racism they had to suffer. They were out there fighting for people who didn’t even like them, much less love them. That’s what America needs to understand about these men.”


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