Red Tails

A sweet distraction from a depressing GOP primary.

Rather than getting all aggravated watching the South Carolina GOP primary acceptance and concession speeches yesterday, I took my family to a nearby Cineplex to see Red Tails, the just-out inspiro-pic about the Tuskegee airmen.

Judging by the various Twitter feeds eminating from South Carolina, I made a brilliant decision. The movie audience was, well, the photographic negative of the GOP primary. Our family provided the ocular counterparts to Herman Cain, only slightly more conspicuous by my developmentally disabled brother-in-law, who was one of several people in the audience moved to occasionally become active participants in the dialogue onscreen. The movie was alright, predictably fun for what it was.

We stumbled into a surprisingly sweet moment for many of the families there, many of whom brought their kids to celebrate the history behind the film, and maybe to see a mainstream Hollywood blockbuster with a virtually 100% black cast. The crammed-in audience seemed to be a broad cross-section of the southland African-American community, many shapes, sizes, ages. Judging by the cars in the parking lot, it was a diverse economic group, too. People paid $11 per ticket to celebrate the excellence  of those airmen, who triumphed over both the Luftwaffe and Americans segregatists.

Some symbols of that segregationist system survive. The South Carolina GOP remains wedded to confederate flags which so disfigure that state’s capital grounds. South Carolina is 28% African-American. Yet its GOP primary was 98% white, won by a candidate who snarled at Juan Williams over the Martin Luther King holiday, made thinly-coded barbs about Barack Obama as the Food Stamps president, and more.

Today, Gingrich commented: “Saul Alinsky radicalism is at the heart of Obama.“ Given Gingrich’s long-ago but still repellent cracks about Democrats’ Woody Allen non-family values, I’m somehow not surprised that he picked Alinsky rather than (say) Tom Watson as his preferred boogeyman representation of the President’s supposed radicalism. In any event, as Jeffrey Goldberg has tweeted, Alinsky was a lot more patriotic than the secessionists of South Carolina. 

It’s sad to see so many white working class South Carolinians–people who might actually benefit from health care reform, progressive taxation, and stronger social insurance programs such as Food Stamps–embrace a stridently conservative candidate so conspicuously lacking in personal and professional integrity. To update LBJ, all these voters seem to hear at election time is “Obama, Obama, Obama.”

The South Carolina GOP primary may bring political spillovers for Democrats. President Obama’s Intrade numbers are up. Mr. Gingrich’s ascent remains depressing. Fortunately, there is more to America than this narrow primary: the Tuskegee airmen, for example, and the people who remember and celebrate them.

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect,, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

14 thoughts on “Red Tails”

  1. The South Carolina GOP remains wedded to confederate flags which so disfigure that state’s capital grounds.

    You mean the confederate flag that was raised above the statehouse by Governor Ernest Hollings in 1962? Ol’ Fritz was a Democrat then and is a Democrat now.

    1. I’m sure that’s exactly the same flag he means. That event, of course, was fifty years ago. In case you hadn’t noticed, Ol’ Fritz changed with the times, and the point of the comment, which perhaps went over your head, was that it’s ironic that the Democrats have become the party of inclusion, while the GOP has become the Dixiecrat party.

  2. Some years back, at a movie that in its own way celebrated African-Americans finding ways to succeed at an American endeavor (“The Bingo Long Travelling Al-Stars and Motor Kings”), I had a similar experience. I think my wife and I were the only whites in the audience, and to be present amidst the joy that the rest of the audience took from that movie was very special. While baseball and the war against fascism aren’t quite on the same level of importance, well, they still represent something special.

  3. I don’t see many movies in theaters, and never really felt nay urge to make this one an exception.

    Still, could you expand on “The movie was alright, predictably fun for what it was.”? Because seeing as how the subject matter lends itself to self-consciously worthy and thereby thoroughly wooden dramatization no matter who’s doing it, and given that it’s a George Lucas production and that hack appears to have an impressive power to generate terrible plotting, writing, and acting, I’ve not even bothered to add it to my Netflix queue thus far. Is it worth seeing in its own right, as a film, or only as a cultural event validating a too-often-ignored 13% of our population?

    1. A sufficient quantity of good dogfight footage can redeem even the most self-righteously hackish storyline, for some of us at any rate. At least that’s why I was planning to see it.

      1. So Red Tails is the Top Gun of 2012?

        Oh, waitaminit … now I remember … Top Gun had Kelly McGillis and all that cool music.

        OTOH, its dogfighting seemed to highlight one absurd idea — go as fast as you can, then slam on the brakes and the other guy will fly by you. Maybe Red Tails is a lot better after all.

        Y’know, it’s hard to realize, but Top Gun was 25 years ago. Time flies, doesn’t it.

  4. 1995’s “The Tuskegee Airmen” was quite a good movie about these heroes. It stars Laurence Fishburne, Cuba Gooding Jr., Andre Braugher amongst other fine actors giving really good performances. If you haven’t seen it, I strongly recommend it. Given what’s been said about Red Tails, I don’t know if I’ll bother with it. I’ll just was Tuskegee Airmen again.

    1. When I heard about Red Tails this is exactly what I thought of. How about a comparison between the two by someone in touch with Reality?

      1. Here is a link to Roger Ebert’s review of Red Tails:

        Here are a few relevant sentences from it:

        The story of the Tuskegee Airmen has been told before, memorably in a 1995 HBO movie that stuck close to the facts and included much material about the training of the airmen in the racist South of the 1940s. … The emphasis here is on “action,” and this is not so much a social or historical document as a war thriller.

        “Red Tails” is entertaining. Audiences are likely to enjoy it. The scenes of aerial combat are skillfully done and exciting. It makes the point that the airmen were skilled and courageous, and played a historic role in the eventual integration of our armed services. “Red Tails” could have done more than that, by more firmly establishing the atmosphere of the Jim Crow South that surrounded most of the airmen in their childhoods. They had a higher mountain to climb than many white pilots and reached higher on its slopes.

  5. A side note: some years ago, when Richard M. Daley wanted to rip out the Meigs Field airport and replace it with a park, I attended a Friends of the Parks meeting I assumed would be a slam-dunk for that green(ish) position. But then I looked around the room, and everyone I turned I saw elderly black men in bomber jackets. Belatedly I remembered that Meigs was the home of a program to teach urban teenagers to fly, founded and run by a group of Tuskegee Airmen–the very men crowding the room. My desire to stand up and ridicule those who wanted to maintain a private-plane airport in lieu of a public park evaporated instantly. Can you say “moral authority”? I knew you could.

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