Red Tails, more than just a movie?

Like most of my friends and family I was anxious to see the highly anticipated movie Red Tails.  Not since Color Purple have I seen so much fervor for the release of a “black movie”.    As a college student I spent most of my college career working part time at a local airport for USAir Express, where I essentially did everything except fly the planes!    

When I was growing up, I remember my Mom working for the now defunct Piedmont Airlines, which was eventually acquired by USAir.   I’ve always had an affinity for aviation and even today I’m still in awe when I feel the rush of takeoff on my flight.   

I was never really enthralled with the idea of being a pilot but my goal as a young college student and part time Airline worker was to eventually matriculate into sales and/or marketing within the airline industry.    Although I had spent a lot of time around planes and working within the airline industry, I never saw any black executives or marketing professionals who could potentially serve as role models for my career aspirations.   

Racism within the airline industry was not uncommon in the late 80’s and early 90’s; I was the only black Agent and probably the first that the airline had ever hired for my airport.     I can recall the first African-American Mayor of Greenville, NC seeing my face at the ticket counter, he seemed surprised and bewildered at my presence, stating “Oh they let you work at the counter too?”    

When I left college I took a job as a Ramp Agent at the Greensboro, NC airport in an effort to work my way up to achieve my goal of becoming an airline executive.   When I arrived for the interview I could see that the receptionist was amazed and flabbergasted that I was black, I guess I sounded professional and “white” enough on the phone to elude her defenses.     I eventually met with the Manager who liked my experience and my ambition and offered me the job a short time later, where I was the only black Ramp Agent.

I was excited to work around the big 757’s and other jumbo passenger jets and was always intrigued and proud to see an occasional black pilot in the cockpit.    While I was watching the movie Red Tails, I felt that same since of pride, seeing capable black men given an opportunity to fly and to fight.   The most compelling scenes in my opinion were the well orchestrated aerial fight scenes.   I thought the Director Anthony Hemingway did an excellent job of blending the CGI fighting scenes and making the movie- goers feel as if they were in the cockpit, without any cheesy special effects. 

Many of the negative comments that I’ve seen on Facebook about the movie involve the interracial relationship that ‘Lightning’ had with an Italian woman and also the sometimes ‘corny’ dialogue.     While I was surprised to see an interracial relationship develop in this movie, I eventually accepted the premise that they simply loved each other and that the storyline was an homage to how differently black men were treated abroad compared to the discrimination they faced at home. 

I also thought that Terrance Howard and Cuba Gooding did a great job portraying the strong black role models that the fighters needed to maintain their sense of duty and their willingness to fight despite the racism they were subject to.     Terrance Howard did an excellent job of bridging the primary themes of the movie, which were racism, politics and war.   His character represented respect and authority for the black fighters and challenged the idea that black fighters were inept and cowardly.  

The most inspiring aspect of the movie was their patriotism and their ability to compartmentalize the racism and stay focused on completing their mission.   Overall, I thought it was entertaining and occasionally informative, I would definitely pay to see it again.

 Barrington Ross

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