“There is no future without the past.”
*Never before had there been this much excitement about a movie than the day those involved with “Red Tails” met at the London Hotel in New York to talk about film. Nate Parker, David Oyelowo and eighty-nine year old real life Tuskegee Airman Dr. Roscoe Brown were among those who were quite eager to talk about the monumental movie. I began by asking British actor David Oyelowo if he was aware of the Tuskegee Airmen in England.
DAVID OYELOWO: No, not a as Brit, certainly not. But the fact of the matter is as I started delving into the research of it, I found a lot of Americans don’t either. A lot of African Americans don’t either. So the shame I felt got curtailed quite quickly [laughter]. However, it certainly was one of the reasons for which we felt this is absolutely necessary and I remember that the first day I met Nate, after the read through, he came to my house. We both remember sitting on sitting on my deck and saying “We will die before this thing is not great because we are so aware of the opportunity we’re being afforded. This has to be told and we all kind of cut our hands and did the blood hand shake.
NATE PARKER: It’s true and the impact this movie can have on young people today is [phenomenal]. It’s so important from an identity standpoint, who we are and what we come from as Americas and as a Black community. It’s been said that people without knowledge of self is like a tree without roots. In our community so many of our young people have no roots. They’re not bearing fruit. They don’t know who they are and with a story like this that tells of this triumph, that tells of these men that pursued excellence, that maximized the their capacity, and who they were is something we can all be proud of. We can take that story and take it into the community, any community and say this is you. It’s not just what they did, but this is you now. That’s why it’s so important. I think that we limit ourselves when we say that was then, why do they need to know now. We need to really understand that we are our past. It’s the fabric of who we are.
DR. ROSCOE BROWN: You know there was an HBO movie in 1995 which is more like a documentary that talked about the training and so on, but this particular movie focuses on the combat activity and it really is the combat activity that gave us our reputation. If we had never gotten into combat, if we never shot down an airplane, we would just be a memory somewhere. Because we did such a great thing, the combat really highlights it and the special effects in ‘Red Tails’ are absolutely outstanding. It gives the young people something to relate to.
‘Red Tails’ certainly makes it point even with all the special effects.
BROWN: Yes, it does show the civil rights aspect because it talks the things we couldn’t do. It talks about our struggle all the way back in 1940, the NAACP and the Black press. You probably know about the ‘Red Tails’ companion documentary, ‘Double Victory,’ that George Lucas produced that deals with civil rights. It has interviews and facts whereas the movie focuses more on the combat activities that will appeal more to the public.
OYELOWO: Also, with a film of this size the desire for it to crossover, to be a global film, I think you marginalize both the film and the audience by concentrating predominantly on that. The great thing about the Tuskegee Airmen is the untold stories about their heroism, the sheer swagger they had; the fact that these guys were the movie stars of their day within the Black community. That’s one of the things we tried to show in terms of other White pilots, with whom they gained respect, because that’s the way they crashed through the color barrier, by what they did as opposed to who they were.
PARKER: The film is a roller coaster ride where people of all ages can come in, home fun, and then you’re socked with some history, and be educated and inspired as well.
Last year there was ‘The Help’ and this year ‘Red Tails’ shows how the Tuskegee Airmen helped to win a war.
OYELOWO: You make the point brilliantly. This is why this film should be made because they were maids and these are fighter pilots, but both were downtrodden. However, these guys helped save the world and this is a story a story that very rarely or never gets told cinematically, especially on this scale. So this is a beautiful counter balance to that film which has its own merit. But it’s brilliant that this comes out six months of that one.
PARKER: We’ve seen ourselves enslaved, we’ve seen ourselves as maids and xyz, but a chance to see brave Black warriors and heroes with confidence be strong men is rare.
BROWN: one of the things I get frequently when you go on speaking tours is did we know we were making history. One of the guys said no, we didn’t. We damn sure did because we were doing something they didn’t want us to and the trials and tribulations were enormous. The problem is with the slow down of the Black press. People in the Black community and people in the White community don’t know the things that we did. There were great scientists. One of the guys that designed the B51 was a Black guy. Nobody ever knew that until recently. So we did make history and we did know we were making history. The thing is when we came back to this country, with segregation; we had to get into the civil rights movement. Many of us were very active in the civil right movement, the March in Selma, the March on Washington, those are the kinds of things that we did then and now with the Tuskegee Airmen movie coming out, kids can say we have real Black heroes.
PARKER: It’s true and the impact it can have on young people today [far reaching]. It’s so important from an identity standpoint, who we are and what we come from as Americans and as a Black community. It’s been said that people without knowledge of self is like a tree without roots. In our community so many of our young people have no roots. They’re not bearing fruit. They don’t know who they are. With a story like this that tells of this triumph, that tells of these men that pursued excellence, that maximized their capacity is something we can utilize. I think that we limit ourselves when we say that was then, why do they need to know now. We need to really understand that we are our past. It’s the fabric of who we are. One of the sayings we had was, ‘Through adversity to the stars.’ We used to say it to each other all the time. We were blessed to play these men on the big screen.
In Other Film Strip News …
The classic extraordinary actor Ralph Fiennes has taken on Shakespeare in a modern day adaptation of “Coriolanus,” with Gerard Butler, Jessica Chastin and Vanessa Redgrave. Although he has an impressive stage and screen track record, Fiennes is best known these days for the role of Lord Voldemort in “Harry Potter.” Starring in and directing “Coriolanus,” Fiennes chose African actor John Kani as General Cominius. The Film Strip asked Fiennes why he chose a Black man for this particular role.
“I wanted to have a Black actor play Cominius, sort of based on a Colin Powell-Obama reference, and I wanted a multicultural political establishment,” he said unequivocally. “And I wanted, obviously, a great actor as well. It was important to me, shooting in Serbia, where the ethnic diversity is quite limited. So if you see the film, you’ll see I’ve tried in the background to put one or two Black faces. I wanted a sense that this could be anywhere; it could be America, it could be England.” It’s mentioned that Rome did have the black laborers, to put it mildly. “Yeah. But I wanted these people to be in authority as well. So that was the thinking.”