*The celebrity-studded New York City premiere of Red Tails took place at the stylish Ziegfeld Theater on Tuesday evening, January 10, 2012, and drew many cast and crew members from the heroic movie along with original members of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen, a celebrated group of African American U.S. service members during World War II who heeded the call to serve their country and ultimately become the true American heroes known as the Tuskegee Airmen.
The Tuskegee Airmen were educated Black men from all over the United States who maintained planes and provided bomber escorts for white pilots during World War II. They were an integral part of the war effort.
Executive-produced by George Lucas and distributed by Twentieth Century Fox, Red Tails is a high-flying action epic inspired by the unsung heroic exploits of the first all-Black aerial combat unit.
This gripping action flick was superbly directed by Anthony Hemingway who has high hopes for the movie and “hope people leave the movie committed to having a more unified country.”
As hundreds of people lined both sides of the street, many illuminating stars from the much anticipated movie walked the red carpet cheerfully waving to fans and onlookers alike: Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrence Howard, Ne-Yo, David Oyelowo, Nate Parker, Elijah Kelly, Method Man, Tristan Wilds, Leslie Odom Jr., Kevin Phillips, Lee Tergesen, Andre Royo, Marcus T. Paulk, and Michael B. Jordan.
Joining Lucas and Hemingway from the Red Tails creative team: Rick McCallum (producer), Charles Floyd Johnson (producer), Aaron McGruder (screenwriter), John Ridley (screenwriter), Craig Hammack (visual effects supervisor), and Terence Blanchard (film composer).
Special invited guests from the Tuskegee Airmen unit in attendance: Dr. Roscoe C. Brown Jr., Alton Burton, Wilfred DeFour, Roscoe Draper, John Harrison, Samuel Henderson, Milton Holmes, Shade Lee, Bertram Levy, Charles Lewis, Charles McGee, Robert Otis Merriweather, Dabney Montgomery, Henry Moore, Eugene Richardson, James Williams, Theobald Wilson; with special guest Nancy Colon, first female African American nurse in the U.S. Air Force.
Having some of the actual Tuskegee Airmen walk the red carpet was an emotional experience for Howard. “To sit there with the Tuskegee Airmen, that’s like Charleton Heston getting a chance to have lunch with Moses before he played Moses,” Howard said. “I mean to actually see the real life exploits and realize that these were people — these were real individuals — and to be told on the big screen that George Lucas wrote the story and Anthony Hemingway’s direction, it’s amazing.”
It has been well documented that The Tuskegee Airmen were discriminated against at home and abroad – and that German prisoners of war received better treatment in the United States than did The Tuskegee Airmen.
Against all odds, with something to prove and everything to lose, these intrepid young airmen took to the skies in awe-inspiring displays of bravery and heroism to fight for their country and with it, the fate of the free world.
As America waged war on fascism overseas, African Americans took up the fight, battling not only our enemies abroad but also a culture of prejudice reflected in the laws and attitudes of the time, a culture that extended into the ranks of the military itself.
Inspired by the perseverance and courage of the Tuskegee Airmen, Red Tails begins its story with World War II in full swing. As the war continues to take its toll on Allied forces in Europe, the Pentagon brass, desperate to protect their dwindling numbers of bombers, look to an option previously considered unthinkable.
At long last they give The Tuskegee Airmen the chance to prove themselves in battle and forever put to rest the misplaced belief that blacks lacked the courage, discipline and intelligence to be fighter pilots.
Unfortunately, Lucas could not find a Hollywood studio to back the film because they said such a film wouldn’t be profitable. Undaunted by their rejection and believing in his gut that this was the right time and the right thing to do, Lucas spent 23 years on this project and $93 million of his own money to produce and distribute the movie stressing the historical importance of the film.
“You know, it’s an important movie for the Black community, because these are heroes that have never been recognized,” Lucas admitted. “And I think it’s about time that people realize who some of the other people are besides John Wayne who saved our country.”
One great win for Team Red Tails was a special invitation from the White House by President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama to screen the movie. Many of the stars and members of the original Tuskegee Airmen attended the special screening including Tuskegee Airman Dabney Montgomery.
“We are very happy that George Lucas had the confidence in the contributions of Black men to spend this type of money on their achievements. He stepped up to the plate and put his belief on the line, and we are indeed proud of him for having that confidence in us and our history,” stated Montgomery.
“It’s more than African American history. It is American history. For too long the positive things that African-Americans have done have been overlooked or swept under the rug, but not anymore,” Montgomery concluded.
“I wanted to make it inspirational for (African American) teenage boys. I wanted to show that they have heroes that are real American heroes that are patriots that helped make this country what it is today,” Lucas said in an interview.
Red Tails opened on Friday, January 20, 2012 nationwide at some 2,500 theaters and opened to better-than-expected numbers at the domestic box office taking in $19.1 million.
At the end of the movie many of the guests leaving the theatre were crying tears of joy. And as they ventured over to the fabulous after party at NYC’s Gotham Hall in Herald Square, they were flying high from pride. Finally, the story of the acclaimed Black flyers would be a known fact by not just Black people, but all people. We are as much a part of this country as the soil it was built on. Many triumphant high-fives and back pats and handshakes were extended to the cast and the original members of the famed Tuskegee Airmen; and a grand old time was had by all! (Photos by Ronnie Wright)
Audrey J. Bernard is an established chronicler of Black society and Urban happenings based in the New York City area.