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George Lucas' "Red Tails" - Tepid Feel Good Story Or Unvarnished Gaze?

by Andre Seewood
August 14, 2011 11:09 AM
5 Comments
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I cast a baleful eye at this film because I don't know if director, Anthony Hemingway, screenwriter, John Ridley or distributor Lucasfilm will have the guts to give us an unvarnished look into racism maintained in that time period against African-Americans in an unmixed company scene with white officers.

"The importance of unmixed company scenes in the cinema cannot be underestimated; such scenes serve to 'peel back' the facade of tolerance often maintained in mixed company and reveal the fallacies and unquestioned beliefs certain groups or races hold against other groups or races."

From Slave Cinema, pg. 83

The point here is that without an unvarnished look at the racist belief system that held these black pilots back during WWII, the film risks coming off as a sort of tepid 'feel good' story.

In representing this time period the 'N' word must be used to evoke the vitriolic nature of the racism at that time.

Today's writers often censor the unvarnished racism of yesterday in an attempt not to offend contemporary viewers but in doing so they weaken the verisimilitude of the time period they are representing. Moreover, the notion of white supremacy maintained during that time period is 'softened' to seem merely a moral judgment against the character of a person and not a race.

Would that the film included an unmixed company scene (a scene where one race and gender speaks explicitly about the merits/morals/and intelligence of another race and gender who is not amid them) among the white officers as they discuss the black pilots, a more challenging portrait of America during WWII might be created. And I don't mean just those white officers who were against the black pilots, but also those who were for them.

Furthermore, an equivalent scene among the black pilots as they discuss the white officers would also sharpen the representation of this time period.

Of course, we'll just have to wait and see, but I for one am not that optimistic.

Andre Seewood is the author of SLAVE CINEMA: The Crisis of the African-American in Film. Pick up a copy of the book via Amazon.com HERE.

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5 Comments

  • Hig | January 20, 2012 11:49 AMReply

    As with all stories, there are always at least two sides. Here's hoping that if this or any other movie depicts white as racist, that both stories are told. Yes, white officers thought the n_s were inferior and that is the definition of racism. However, black officers thought the honky muhfuhs should be slapped down hard because we is better than that. Again, the definition of racism. A thousand airmen and ten thousand support personnel and not a racist one?

    Thirty years after the Tuskegee airmen, I was a white boy in this man's Army and it was still there on both sides. Rap sessions, race awareness, and direct orders could not make it go away entirely. I was still inferior to the black man - crackah, honky, and they were going to hump my mama when I wasn't looking.

    So, here's to the truth. Both the black and the white man can't hold a candle to a Native American of any tribe. Just saying...

  • JOHN ZOIDBERG | September 8, 2011 1:01 AMReply

    I think for people looking for this to be so realistic that the actors will use the N word and to show the brutal nature of racism, its not going to happen because it is rated pg-13. But that doesn't mean it wont be a great film with a cinematically moving story that had to be told. George Lucas makes and produces awesome movies why would any one doubt his ability to tell this very emotional uplifting story about brave men that defied the odds paved the way for others and made history? plus Lucas is a democrat not a Nazi republican tea bagger...

  • urbanauteur | August 16, 2011 1:59 AMReply

    And i would cast an "jaundice eye", but? i would love to be a fly on the kichen sink, ease dropping on his fine ass chocolate morsel-Mellody Hobson -pro-kapitalist rant/muse& her beau-king George Lucas tremendous liberalism. i like your Lit Ref. and it compliments brit-cult nat critic-Paul Gilroy's-aint no black in the union jack! & his seminal tome-After Empire, also Clyde Taylor's-Black frames.

  • AccidentalVisitor | August 15, 2011 9:38 AMReply

    If you want to know the type of movie this will be copy and past this link:

    http://www.ceskapozice.cz/en/news/society/time-finally-right-lucasfilm’s-‘red-tails’


    It will take you to an article that is EASILY the most detailed of any regarding this film. Lots of interesting information is revealed regarding why Hemingway wasn't around for the reshoots, how they manage to keep the budget small (Hollywood take note ---the film only cost $30 million despite having more visual effects than most films in Hollywood history), why it took so long for the film to come out (very insightful in that it provided key details I was never aware of) and also the type of story it will tell.

    After reading it I'm guessing the film addresses racism and gives you a sense of the prejudice these guys had to deal with during that time, but if you are expecting a Spike Lee type of approach to it you may be disappointed. The story in itself may be more about the battles in the sky than the battles at home on the ground.

  • Tamara | August 15, 2011 2:04 AMReply

    So in this particular scenario the audience should be engaged in more than just the dogfight scenes. Every scene should count. White officers. Black officers. White and Black officers. Acknowledgment of racist attitudes in favor of or in defense to both sides. Without that two-edged dialogue gently or unflinchingly referenced this film will be as you say, tepid.

    I like the points you've made. I've marked your book to purchase. I concur with most and concede that when viewing the one trailer I've seen, the dogfights excited me most. I want the action and not the history lesson (as I already know of it), but the film should serve both, right? The dogfights shouldn't be the only 'hard' thing about this feature. But I agree...no tip-toeing and no placating at the expense of offending or not, one group or the other.

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