On Friday (Jan. 20), I headed to New York’s Philippe Chow restaurant for Ne-Yo‘s private dinner introducing his new Compound Entertainment acts, but also for a surprise free Red Tails screening. Much fuss has been made about the film surrounding the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of black fighter pilots who broke the Air Force’s then segregation barrier, but here are the facts; George Lucas, the guy who created Star Wars and clearly has no problem getting things green-lit in Tinsel Town, said no Hollywood studio wanted to produce this film; African-Americans galvanized like we were mildly attacking at segregated lunch counters to “get butts in the seats” on opening weekend; the efforts worked with Red Tails earning second place at the Box Office behind the god awful Lycan-overrun Underworld:
4000 Awakening. So were “The View” and “Wendy Williams” appearances by Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Nate Parker worth the film’s weight in gold? Ehn. *spoiler alert*
In the opening scene of Red Tails, there is a fight scene between German fighter planes, American fighter planes and bomber crafts, the latter were the largest planes to fly during World War II and thusly needed more protection from enemy fire than a svelte jet slicing through the sky. Instead of shielding the bomber, the U.S. fighter planes zipped off to shoot German planes for “glory” said one of the pilots. This opening scene should’ve been exciting because of the flight tricks and flying bullets but I was just confused and bored. Admittedly, I’m not a big war film fan but if it’s an action war flick, let’s do it with omph . Wow me with interesting plane tricks or something? Casino Royale begins with a 10 minute chase scene, now that’s what I’m talking about.
The introduction of characters Easy and Lightening were also slow goings, though I loved the layers each protagonist had; Easy as the struggling alcoholic trying to impress his father and Lightening as the glory hound but talented pilot who doesn’t know when to stop. Often, black characters in films are so one-sided they can be out-acted by Saturday morning cartoons but not for these two leads. However for Lightening’s sudden-death romance with an Italian woman he meets, literally, while flying over her house as she’s hanging laundry, that’s another story.
Could you fall in love with someone who didn’t speak your language? Probably not, but in this film’s world, absolutely. I understand what the Red Tails script was trying to convey, American black men fell in love with the women in the countries where they served and it was a challenge of language and culture, the Italian beauty’s mom accompanies the two on their first date. Still, the two main characters are afforded such nuances, it seemed natural to lend that attention to the love story as well but that didn’t happen. Scene one of the romance, the two meet and date with mama; scene two, we’re flying paper planes and I love you; scene three, we’re sleeping together – though no physical love-making is shown, is that the legacy of the Denzel Washington effect or the need to make the film palatable for families? – and let’s get married. Word? Maybe I should’ve tried a bit harder with the Brazilian cutie I met while I was in Italy and stutter-stepped through a conversation in Italian (him) and Spanish (me) to understand each other, we could’ve been married with multi-lingual kids by now!
Elsewhere, the accents provided by Clifford “Method Man” Smith as a mechanic, Schaffer” Ne-Yo” Smith as a pilot and various others drove me insane. First of all, I know many blacks from the South joined the military but a Southern accent didn’t have to be imperative. If the actor can’t mimic the speaking style, don’t force it. I couldn’t tell what Method Man’s accent was supposed to be and Ne-Yo’s sounded so forced that it detracted from his otherwise happy-go-lucky character, Lucky. Tristan Wilds’ voice pattern sounded like 2012 not the 1940s and according to a Parlour dad, mine who served in the U.S. Air Force, all of Terrence Howard’s Colonel speeches sounded uninspiring and weak— and he hated Cuba’s pipe. Ha.
Still, the all-black ensemble cast was fun to watch, including Howard, Gooding Jr., Andre Royo, sexy Nate Parker (those lips, ladies … ), David Oyelowo, Michael B. Jordan (“The Wire” alum), Tristan Wilds (“The Wire” alum), Meth and Elijah Kelley. Hell, even my favorite “Breaking Bad” meth dealer Bryan Cranston appeared in the film. The guys gelled together well and did the best they could with a script created to be as mainstream as possible. I still dream about a script as sharp as The Debt or Super 8, which also digs into the past for a storyline but appeals to the interests of contemporary viewer. It’s not impossible.
Though I wished Red Tails was better, as the saying goes “support this film so better black films can be made,” right? It’s an honest statement that always puts me between a rock and a hard place, just because it’s black I shouldn’t have to go see foolishness. Look at Soul Plane, I refuse, but that film was green-lit. If you truly believe in the entertainment revolution, as I like to call it, where black people are portrayed and able to produce intelligent films about themselves, buy a bunch of tickets to Red Tails and then buy a bunch for Pariah and rent Skin and Mooz-lum. Research your local film festivals, attend, then tell your favorite picks from the mountaintop then maybe Hollywood’s celebrated guard Meryl Streep will make more off-handed remarks about solid depictions of blackness and those mentions will turn into money.