Wednesday, February 21 , 2018, 12:50 am | A Few Clouds 44º


Cinema in Focus: ‘Red Tails’ a Powerful Story of the Tuskegee Airmen

Film based on a true incident exploring the way racial prejudice can change

3 Stars — Thought-provoking

Racial equality continues to be a struggle in the United States, but what helps us make progress is the proven recognition that all humans are created equal and racial inequity is unfounded.

One such moment occurred during World War II when the 1925 Army War College report claiming that, “Blacks are mentally interior to the white man, by nature subservient ... cowardly ... and therefore unfit for combat,” was proven untrue. Creating the “Tuskegee Experiment,” the Army formed an all-black unit of fighter pilots who served with distinction. One of the reasons was the attempt by the Army to make the standards too high for blacks to qualify. The actual result was an entire unit of black pilots and ground crew who were uniformly remarkable.

Red Tails is a fictionalized telling of the results of this experiment.

Directed by Anthony Hemingway, the story is the creation of John Ridley, who was joined by Aaron McGruder in adapting the story for the screen. Though some of the facts of their missions were changed, the overall truth that this group of Americans was exemplary is clearly demonstrated.

The ensemble cast includes two best friends, Marty “Easy” Julian (Nate Parker) and Joe “Lightning” Little (David Oyelowo), whose unique talents and struggles allow us to identify with the humanity of these two exceptional pilots.

Focusing on only a few of scores of pilots in the 332d Fighter Group, we come to care about Samuel “Joker” George (Elijah Kelley), Andrew “Smoky” Salem (Ne-Yo), Ray “Junior” Gannon (Tristan Wilds) and Leon “Neon” Edwards (Kevin Phillips). Also included are two officers whose leadership and political acumen work together to give their unit the chance to distinguish themselves, Col. A.J. Bullard (Terrence Howard) and Major Emanuel Stance (Cuba Gooding Jr.)

The obligatory love story is between “Lightening” Little and a beautiful Italian woman, Sofia (Daniela Ruah), and the superficially presented villain is a German ace they nickname “Pretty Boy” (Lars van Riesen). It is the final showdown between “Pretty Boy” and the ace of the Red Wings, Lightening, that is the climax of the dogfights and the ultimate proof of the superior fighting skills of the Tuskegee pilots, even when the German had a jet fighter and the American did not.

One of the strengths of the film is the authentic presentation of the prominence of the Christian faith in the black community. Joining together in prayer before their first major engagement, they ask for the help of their Heavenly Father. This is contrasted with one pilot’s trust in the “black Jesus,” a fringe belief for which he is lovingly teased by the other pilots.

Although we will never know the full impact of the Red Tails in helping win WWII, there is no doubt that they helped win a more respected place for blacks within our nation’s culture. This film helps us celebrate that truth as the Red Tails officers are invited into the white-only officer’s club in gratitude for their part in fighting the war. It is with the retelling of this true event that may increase respect and honor for our fellow Americans of all races.


» When the official government report claims racial superiority by one race over another, that government must be challenged. How are you challenging systemic prejudice in our world today? How do you challenge prejudice within yourself?

» The final battle between Lightening and Pretty Boy is an obvious suicide mission in which Lightening lays down his life for his friend. Do you believe it was the lack of fear or the depth of love that drove Lightening to do what he did?

» In the real 332d, the commanding officers were white. Why do you think the film did not portray them this way?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit

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