Promised 'Red Tails' Update: Go See It

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As anticipated last month, I finally saw the George Lucas adventure movie about the Tuskegee Airmen, Red Tails. Here is how some of the real Tuskegee Airmen looked:

Thumbnail image for Tuskegee-Airmen1.jpg

And??? OK, it's not Shakespeare. The dialogue is sometimes laugh-out-loud corny -- I mean really, several times I actually burst out laughing in the theater --  and the characters have a kind of comic-book obviousness. The naturally talented virtuoso who takes one risk too many; the college boy weighed down by parental expectations; the doomed sweethearts; the bigot who sees the error of his ways -- and the ones who don't; etc. Still, I'm glad I saw it, and I hope it registers as a success.

Reason one: It's not supposed to be Shakespeare! If put in its real artistic class -- not just contemporary aerial-Westerns like Top Gun and even Star Wars itself but also World War II standards like 30 Seconds Over Tokyo or Sands of Iwo Jima, all of whose real message is, "See how brave and good our people are! And how they must cope with personal problems, and how they miss their loved ones at home, as they resolutely fight for us"--  it's no cornier or thinner than the others.

Reason two: It's fun to watch. At least if you have any interest in seeing good guys vs. bad guys as they zoom around, engage in derring-do, and blow things up. Or, as a veteran flyer put it when defending the movie against nit-picking critiques of its accuracy:

None of them seem to understand that the film is for an audience of teenage boys--particularly African-American boys--and not 60-year-old rivet-counters.
Reason three: I hope it is officially considered a success, so that when movie people talk about "another Red Tails" that will be a green-light signal rather than a kiss of death. Lucas has said that he imagines the current film as part of a trilogy, which he'll make if the first one succeeds. For all the complaints about thin characters, I would actually would like to see a "prequel" movie explaining, for instance, how "Lightning" and some other rural-South characters ended up as fighter pilots (yes, I realize that this pattern was common among rural-Southern whites at the time) or how "the old man," Colonel Bullard, got to that rank. Or a sequel showing what happened to the flyers when they went back home. Including "Easy," who struggles with a drinking problem and his father's expectation that he'll follow him into professional life. Also, it wouldn't be bad to have Hollywood take it for granted that a movie with a nearly all-black cast could have mainstream success.

So: if you have a chance, check it out. Think of it not as Henry V but as a precursor to Top Gun
and you'll be set for a good time.
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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