David Banner’s Critical Review of ‘Red Tails’

The opinionated entertainer shares his thoughts on the film and it’s lasting impact on Black filmmaking

There’s much that can be said about and learned from the recently released George Lucas film, Red Tails. First and foremost, this is a movie that MUST be supported. Whether you show your support for the long overdue story of the Tuskegee Airmen, for the mostly Black cast, or for the tremendous efforts of Lucas himself in bringing this story to light, once again this is a movie that needs to be supported. There are however some critiques that can and should be made about the movie, but in the end, the success of Red Tails has far-reaching implications that will reverberate through and potentially alter the course of Black filmmaking.

The Movie

Red Tails is the brainchild of Hollywood icon George Lucas, creator of both the Star Wars and Indiana Jones sagas. Set during World War II, the film is loosely based on the experiences of the Tuskegee Airmen, Black pilots in the segregated 332nd fighter group. It follows the experiences (both combat and life experiences) of a group of pilots stationed at a U.S. airfield in Italy in 1944. Bearing the burden of the blatant and institutionalized racism within the military at that time, the fighters of the 332nd were relegated to menial and inconsequential missions compared to their White counterparts. Eventually, the Tuskegee Airmen were granted the more prestigious and dangerous ground attacks, air cover and bomber escort missions. It was their impeccable record of escorting bombers that made them legendary among pilots in general.

While the plot of Red Tails was intense, dramatic, and lighthearted it was also at times cliché and predictable. Whether it was the death of one character or the escape from death of another, the foreshadowing of those events just seemed too blatant. Speaking of characters, I often felt that I wanted to know more about the back-story of the men on screen. While there were surface dynamics provided, a more in depth treatment of the characters, their back-stories and experiences with a racist military structure–outside of Col. Bullard’s (Terrence Howard) meetings with military brass–could have helped me identify more with the characters. I even found myself put-off by some of the basic artistic aspects of the film (i.e. unnecessary and awkward accents, or even the font of the credits at the beginning of the film). In truth, I felt that the story left me unfulfilled and wanting more.

With that said, my critique of the film must be put in the proper context. The gaps in the storyline and the lack of in-depth character development reflect the shear amount of material the director, writers and producers attempted to include in the film. Trying to cover the realities of war, incredible fight scenes, a love story, character nuances and the racial-political realities of the military in a two-hour movie is certainly challenging. The story of the Tuskegee Airmen themselves–their triumphs, their tragedies, their battles in combat and their battles at home–is too great a story to be condensed into a two-hour time frame. It is for this reason that Lucas himself is on record as saying that he plans to produce both a sequel (covering the experiences of the pilots after returning home) and a prequel (documenting their flight training at Tuskegee University) if Red Tails proves to be successful.

In the end, the movie itself, though simplistic and at times “corny,” was inspiring. The battle scenes were superb and the film certainly evoked emotion and identification with the airmen themselves. My criticisms aside, it is certainly a movie that MUST be seen, a movie that MUST be supported and a story that MUST be told.

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  • rhenewal

    Thank you for mentioning the horrible font. I think it predisposed me to be very critical of the movie. I found it looked both cheap and juvenile. Also, I agree with the majority of your review.

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  • V. Turner

    Intresting comment about the font. Didn’t bother me at all. Kind of made me think of the moment someone suggested to “Paint the tails Red!”. They were in a war zone, no fancy paint shop around, can see a guy with brush and paint in hand. Think font is appropriate.

    Think the movie was great, the story telling and compression (of so much in so little film time) was almost like watching a comic book. I don’t say that to be negative. Kind of like seeing a D.C. Enemy Ace, G.I. Combat, Sgt. Rock, with great Joe Kubert cover come to life. No matter the box office results we have a great film in the historical record that documents if only in a very brief amount of filmtime many aspects of our courageous black airmen. To satisfy everyone a mini series on the order of Band of Brothers would be required. There are hundreds of stories of WWII tankers, and soldiers that remain untold. Hats off to Mr. Lucas for the strength of conviction to see this through on his dime.

  • Clever Gemz

    I have yet to se the Movie but I have been following Lucas’ interviews. Many of the critiques that you shared here are actually some of the same ones he has mentioned himself. But the main one is the Character development. George Lucas Actually Has a Prequel written and ready to go based on the success of this movie. This actually takes place in the middle of the story. He has more to tell and develop we just have to continue to support his vision.

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  • KStephens

    I agree with Mr. Banner’s critique. I liked the film but I was disappointed by the writing. I thought it simplistic and the film is rife with cliches. I admire Mr. Lucas’ determination to make this movie, and his desire to show black teenagers heroes who look like them. Someone should have told him and the writers that black teens, or any teens for that matter, respond to honesty, whether it be in language or deed. Unfortunately the one-dimensional characters and hokey dialogue won’t do much to garner their respect. I hope he can secure better writers for his future installations.

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  • Liveurlife Thisyear

    I am very glad to hear about the box office success of this movie.Congratulations to George Lucas. David Banner being a BLACK PASSIONATE MAN has been been informing people about this movie.Maybe this type of success will motivate African-Americans of means to find their BLACKNESS and unite to produce more “fo self and about self.”

  • Dre

    I think, to a degree, that it was a good thing that the movie was simplistic. This is a heavy story and I don’t think we can expect it to be told in one shot. I do hope that the prequel does come to fruition. And I do hope that future WWII flicks include the story of the Tuskegee Airmen. I can’t recall one WWII flick that features anyone but white men. But what this movie does, is introduce the story of the Tuskegee Airmen to an audience that has probably never heard of these men. And hopefully it will inspire us, that do know of them, to learn more about them and share their story to future generations. I took my 9 year old son and 3 teen nephews to see it.

  • brotherap

    “First and foremost, this is a movie that MUST be supported”

    With all due respect, the above quote of David Banner is and always will be a degrading death sentence to black movies and black actors. It’s like saying “Ugly Ass Suzy is the only girl without a date to the prom, we MUST support Suzy and find her a date”. It is degrading to the validity of the story to be told and to the potential of black actors to find work, and stops short of begging. We, African Americans, must strategize to produce our films within our own truthfully manageable budgets, with formulas for marketing that defy the proposition intentionally embedded in the minds of the global consumers that black heroes, black stories, black actors, are not marketable. The very idea is simply a variation of what advertising agencies used to say while denying advertising dollars to black radio stations, “your music is not strong enough to make an impact on the market”. We all know that to be a lie. Now what we must do as independent producers is develop a strategy that undermines any thought of the inferiority of our product, through our experiences, or any other genre that we choose to write and produce. Kudos to Lucas, he at least got one part of the formula right, but the producers of the movie “The Devil Inside” got the formula right too, whether you like the genre or not. They produced a film for a million dollars which will have a profit ratio of at least 100-to-1 before the end of 90 days. Figuring out the formula is key and what we blacks must do is figure out what pieces go where in the formula. Much of it is psychological, baby!…..Peace brotherap

    • Sybil

      I resent David Banner’s comments. My father was in WWII, and was
      shot and wounded. How about sending Mr. Banner and his Rap group,
      into a war zone to put on a show. Yeah’, I thought not David.

      I commend Mr. Lucas, for using his money, and making this movie happen.
      We must remember Ignorance is Bliss. Peace!

  • jayebee

    My husband and I saw the movie today. Although war is not a topic I enjoy watching in a movie (or in real life!), I really wanted to see this one because of the story itself. While we did enjoy the movie and would recommend it to others, it really left me hungry for more of the story. I think I will look for some books on the subject to really learn more about this important part of our American history. I will also look forward to the prequel and sequel in the future.

  • wuzyoungoncetoo

    Please stop referring to Red Tails as the “long overdue” telling of the story of the Tuskegee Airmen. Not only does the film fail to actually tell that story in any meaningful way, it was beat to the punch by another film…oddly titled “The Tuskegee Airmen”…that told that story far better, over 16 years ago. Lucas even recycled Cuba Gooding Jr. From that earlier telling.

  • Hidalgo Roughknuckles

    The movie was an insult to real, in-depth, thought out movies on the related subject. It being a George Lucas film and being so terribly done, leads me to believe that this was just a cheap attempt to be perceived as African American conscious while exploiting a mainly D-list cast of actors to pull quick money from black movie goers. It’s funny so many people mentioned the credits because the credits were something that my girlfriend and I mentioned as being oddly cheap and poorly done. That should have been the precursor to the remainder of this terrible movie. I walked out within 45 minutes even though I spent $20 for tickets. Yeah yeah the storyline is important, doesn’t mean I have to pretend the movie was any good.

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