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

Shadow and Act By Andre Seewood | Shadow and Act August 14, 2011 at 11:09AM

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.
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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.

This article is related to: Things That Make You Go Hmm..., oped


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