The experience of black American aviators in World War II gets a whitewash in Red Tails. The story of the 996 pilots (and some 15,000 ground personnel) who distinguished themselves in the air in the face of institutional racism is a great one and, at least, will come to the attention of more people due to this long-gestating project from Lucas film. But every character here is so squeaky-clean, and the prejudice as depicted is so toothless and easily overcome, that the film feels like a gingerly fantasy version of what, in real life, was an exceptional example of resilient trail-blazing. The tale's considerable built-in inspirational value will move and impress black audiences of all ages and would do the same to a wider public if sufficiently promoted, but the determinedly simplistic approach will curtail interest among any viewers hungry for some real history. The anticipated low interest level for this material overseas is cited as a major reason the project took so long to get off the grounds. The story of the Tuskegee Airmen has been told before, memorably in a 1995 HBO movie that stuck close to the facts and included much material about the training of the airmen in the racist South of the 1940s. As the story’s unproven heroes — the pilots in the 332nd Fighter Group based at the Ramitelli Airfield in Italy — rise to the challenge, they overturn every racist cliché applied to “Negroes.” And when they do, most of their suspicious white counterparts shed their prejudice and welcome them into their ranks. This much-decorated squadron of African-American pilots, who’s P-51 Mustangs were painted with red tails, flew thousands of missions between 1943 and 1945. They discredited an outrageously racist 1925 Army War College study that asserted that blacks lacked the intelligence, ambition and courage to serve in combat. Red Tails begins its story with World War II in full swing. As the war continues to take its toll on Allied...
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