I know there are way too many of you guys out there that haven’t seen this movie (correct me if I’m wrong). In 1995, I was probably just watching it because Lawrence Fishburne was in it or because it was a Sunday and I didn’t have anything else to watch (crazy how many channels we had back then compared to now). Whatever the reason, I did watch it and I really liked it. So much so that I assumed everyone else rocked with it too! I was more than a little surprised as the years passed and I would ask people casually in conversation “have you ever seen The Tuskeegee Airmen” and they would look at me with a blank face. Well here’s my attempt to trying to put y’all on!
The Tuskegee Airmen is Loosely based on the experiences of the first African American and Caribbean Air Force pilots of the same name. It’s a story about how a group of Black “wannabe” pilots fought through discrimination and achieved some of the highest honors the US Airforce had to offer, eventually being nicknamed the “Red Tails”. This movie was special. It showed the adversity the men had to face, the mental and emotional strain it put all of them, some more than others, and how their brotherhood helped them to overcome it.
The film showcased a really good cast that all played their specific parts well and gelled as a collective. Hannibal Lee (Lawrence Fishburne) as the self-appointed leader of the group that helps to keep everyone grounded and focused on the end goal. Walter Peoples (Allen Payne) the boy-genius pilot that lives to be in the cockpit. Leroy Cappy (Malcolm-Jamal Warner) the levelheaded soldier, there to do his job. Ok ok ok… I guess it doesn’t sound as good when I’m trying to explain it like that. But they all played their roles really well.
Lt. Glenn (Courtney B. Vance) actually had one of the best roles in the film to me. He was the African American trainer for new recruits. He was aware that the cards were stacked against the recruits but he still fought for them. At times he seemed unnecessarily tough but it was just because he knew the margin of error for his group was so small they couldn’t afford any mistakes. But when it was needed he took a flight to DC to defend his recruits to a room full of senators.
I guess what got me is I love Black empowerment. And this movie shows Black people doing a job so well that all their detractors along the way looked silly, and completely bigoted, for ever doubting them. Superior officers who tried to undermine their training from the start had to pin their wings on their chests. Senators who tried to end the program having to eat their words. And lastly, White pilots who initially refused to even accept that their lives had been saved by this Black group of pilots, eventually singing a new tune and requesting them over other less-accomplished white pilots. That there is enough to get me to watch again every few years.
The Tuskegee Airmen (August 25, 1995)
Director: Robert Markowitz
Notable Awards: NAACP Outstanding Television Movie or Miniseries, NAACP Outstanding Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries (Laurence Fishbourne), Peabody Award (1996)