Sunday, January 29, 2012

Red Tails: From History to PSA


Its distasteful, the way media engines and outlets have been going into overdrive brainwashing the masses, the black masses, into believing that Red Tails (Hemingway, 2012) is a story about us. The us who weren’t allowed into the mainstream simply due to our skin color, the us who turned the tide of a world war with little acknowledgement thereafter, the us who have since been little more than a footnote in history and occasional proud reference during February, you know the month when we’re able to unfold all our accomplishments of the past with little regard now for what they stood for then. This movie is more about the special effects of dogfights than it is about historical accuracy and paying homage to the Tuskegee Airman.

Now, I completely understand the difficulty of compressing years and years of historical fact into 90 minutes of entertainment but, when the subject matter has been notoriously glossed over since its first making history, one would hope the parties involved in its theatrical conception would use every avenue available to give as well rounded and accurate an account as possible. This was not its fate. Though hyped to be a marvel of African-American cinema, which it actually wasn’t, George Lucas (executive producer) was very hands on with its creation, it tumbled across the screen like an Afterschool special touting the saccharine importance of diversity and “when working together we can accomplish anything”-ness.

But, not all the blood, even though a great portion does belong on the hands of the production team, is on the hands of the production team, the black community has to share in this formidably poorly conceived concoction. The community’s lowered expectations and overly grateful attitude toward being thrown a bone are to blame. We don’t hold ourselves or accomplishments to a high enough standard and therefore are willing to accept anything with a brown face attached to it as another achievement in our history even when it is rubbish and we know its rubbish but don’t want to say anything against it for fear of being against “black films” and thus against the community. This is a bullshit excuse. Statuses on Facebook and Twitter, not surprisingly, hailed this as a great achievement, are happy this film got made, are giving mad love to Lucas for finally getting his “passion project” into theatres and loving up this farce beyond its deserving it. When we, and yes, this must be a collective we, are finally able to look beyond the fa├žade of supporting our own and are able to critically analyze what is being pitched to us, then we will finally be making the films we want to see and will tire of showing forced gratitude for films that maintain the status quo of prevalent stereotyping, buffoonery, and of being relegated to the past with “our best days”.

Now, for the review.

To begin, it was clear from jump, ala the red opening credits, that this ride was going to be subpar. However, the overarching problem fell mostly on the hands of the puppet pre-production crew: the writers and director, which is surprisingly disappointing because of one writer in particular, Aaron McGruder creator and amazing brain behind the Boondocks comic strip turned television series. McGruder is known for his expansive wit, sharp cleverness and determined, if not aggressive, ability to pull back the curtains on society’s shortcomings and provoke a thoughtful insight that both challenges and motivates his audience. None of this was put to use in the movie. The quick-witted dialogue he’s executed between the two juvenile characters in his animated series is more judicious and natural than all the scenes in this movie combined. The lack of fluidity and emotionless recitation of dialogue was utterly distracting and made seasoned actors look amateurish; a complete disrespect to the multitude of talented cast members. Perhaps the bureaucracy surrounding this movie suppressed the creative genius bubbling beneath but goodness did no one read the script prior to production? Apparently, not. Which brings me to Anthony Hemingway who, contrary to what this movie may say about him, has worked on many notable projects that I’ve enjoyed tremendously. The majority of his credits are in television, which is a whole other animal entirely from film, though respectfully, is not outside of the family. However, to allow that bit of difference to justify the multitude of wrong turns would be an even bigger cop-out than the film. I just can’t understand why or what caused Hemingway, a reoccurring director on The Wire (Simon, 2002), where a number of Red Tails cast members once shined, to misuse their abilities so consistently, its almost a talent within itself. It was as if this was a big budgeted read-through. On top of the conservative directing was faulty editing; whole scenes felt too short, incomplete, or entirely unnecessary. One scene that embodies all these virtues takes place in a conversation between Colonel A.J. Bullard (Terence Howard) and Marty “Easy” Julian (Nate Parker), captain of the Airmen. After a dogfight between the Tuskegee Airmen and German fighters one of the airmen David “Deacon” Watkins (Marcus T. Paulk) goes down and could have possibly died if it weren’t for the guidance of “Easy”, who directed the pilot home blind, but “Easy” is supposed to have a drinking problem, which is constantly brought up and beaten to death by his frienemy John “Lightning” Little (David Oyelowo), a drinking problem that never affects his work, but whatever, don’t me started on their nonsensical beef. Anyway, “Easy” believes he’s no longer fit to fly because… I’m guessing the Germans wouldn’t have shot one of their planes down if they knew he was sober…and wants to relinquish his position, setting Bullard (Howard) up for an inspiring speech worthy of thundering applause, the likes of Gladiator, Braveheart even 300, instead Bullard sends “Easy” off with, “sometimes you won’t make the right decisions.” end scene fade to the next. Yes, “Easy” looks as confused as you sweet reader. A perfect home-run pitch ruined by a ball and walk to first base; that was tragic. Many of these frustrating scenes fill in the time between finely executed dogfights and gorgeous aerial shots of Italy…oh I just remembered one scene where “Lightning”, the rogue arrogant one of the bunch, enters a white officer’s only bar in town and refusing to take anymore of their guff, starts a fight with the entire bar filled with angry “nigger hating” officers and comes out without a scratch; yes, 30 men, one dude, no marks. I hope I’m getting the point across.

But, then again perhaps I’m over thinking this whole thing. It is after all just a film, right? And this is Hemingway’s first feature at that. And, there’s word that Lucas just wanted to make a good ol’ cheesy, fun war flick for African-Americans since we don’t have a long lineage of crap-busters of our own. But, I call bullshit on all the excuses and exclamations of enjoyment. Unfortunately, the African-American community doesn’t have a long line of blockbusters in our history nor do we have a history of getting our historical accomplishments seen, enjoyed and discussed even in our own communities. I don’t believe such powerfully, significant historical events should be taken lightly or be made “cheesy” for the benefit of a few forced cheap laughs and high ticket sales, ‘cause when will be the next time an opportunity to tell a story like this will happen? I take offense to this sugarcoated, insincere dribble, the overall lack of research and nonchalance toward the atrocities of war (i.e. the POW sequence—watching this you realize there’s more danger in attending summer camp in Wisconsin). The lack of a personal touchstone or history of the Tuskegee Airmen project is horribly misguided. This is a complete disappointment, which the Black community should not support (note: the film industry is as bad as the Democrats expecting the black population to support crap candidates solely because a brown face is attached) Pssh! The only films I support are ones that bestow upon me a perspective I’ve never imagined; that introduce me to worlds, ideas, events and people beyond my own experiences, expand the limits of my imagination and challenge what I believe to already know. I look forward to that opening weekend.

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