If I'd paid attention to my former Washington Post colleague Courtland Milloy, I would have said no when my 11-year-old said he wanted to see Red Tails, the new movie about the Tuskegee Airmen. Courtland saw the movie. He hated it. He hated it so much, in fact, he wrote a column about how bad the picture was.
Fortunately, I didn't pay attention to Courtland's column, and my son and I went to see the movie a couple of weeks ago. To be sure, Red Tails isn't as good as, say, Glory, the 1989 film about black soldiers in the Civil War. But then Glory had stars like Morgan Freeman and Denzel Washington, while Red Tails has Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Terrence Howard, two actors on the downhill slope of their careers.
George Lucas--who financed Red Tails himself when he couldn't find Hollywood backers--has said he wanted to make a throwback to pictures like Flying Leathernecks, a 1951 movie starring (who else?) John Wayne. And he succeeded. Red Tails is a gorgeous movie with breath-taking computer generated dog-fights, but a perfunctory plot and little character development.
Considered as the picture Lucas wanted to make, Red Tails is pretty darn good. And, the thing is, there aren't that many movies about the history of blacks in the U.S. armed forces. A quick search found this write-up, which lists 19 pictures, but doesn't include 1984's A Soldier's Story, which also stars Washington, billed below David Alan Grier!, or The Negro Soldier, a Frank Capra propaganda film made to encourage blacks to enlist during World War II.
And, flaws aside, Red Tails was a great opportunity to talk afterwards with my son--who, by the way, has met two Tuskegee Airmen, and has a book autographed by one--about the rich history of blacks in the military from Crispus Attucks to the present.