George Lucas is back with his first non-“Star Wars” or “Indiana Jones” production in nearly 20 years, and it’s a World War II actioner about the African American pilots and crewmen known as the Tuskegee Airmen. If you’re already familiar with the history of these heroic men, by all means go see the guy behind “The Phantom Menace” and “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” seem to do for the sky over Europe (with help from Cuba Gooding, Jr.) what Michael Bay did ten years ago for Pearl Harbor (with help from Cuba Gooding, Jr.). If you’re not, then I have another Doc Option for you.
The way Lucas’ “Red Tails” is being sold, you’d think the Tuskegee Airmen were never the subject of a movie before. Actually, Cuba Gooding, Jr., has already been in one film about these pilots, the 1995 HBO drama “The Tuskegee Airmen.” Fellow “Red Tails” actor Terrence Howard previously played one of them centrally in “Hart’s War.” And five decades earlier there was the short propaganda film titled “Wings for This Man,” a ten-minute documentary specifically focused on the Tuskegee Airmen and narrated by then-actor and AAF Captain Ronald Reagan. In the film the future President says it’s the “answer to the propaganda of the Japs and Nazis.” Theatrically it was distributed strictly to African American cinemas.
“Wings for This Man” is one of the last of the many war films produced by the U.S. military’s First Motion Picture Unit, of which Reagan voiced or appeared in many (the FMPU was his main gig during the war). Though other films before had presented African American stories in the armed forces (such as the recent addition to the National Film Registry, “The Negro Soldier”), this is celebrated for being the first to tackle the issue of racism for these heroes, albeit without directly referencing the men’s skin (instead it’s “the color of his eyes or the shape of his nose”). Watch it in full here:
The Army Air Force’s film division also started another production titled “Red Tails” but it was presumably aborted. Other documentaries concentrated on the Tuskegee Airmen do exist, however. There’s the 2004’s “Silver Wings & Civil Rights: The Fight to Fly,” which gets into larger segregation issues within the military back home. Then there’s the Emmy Award-winning 2007 film “Red Tail Reborn,” which is narrated by “Star Trek” actor Michael Dorn and looks at both the history and a modern project to restore and maintain a P-51C Mustang, which is the plane flown by the Tuskegee pilots. Due to its success, there’s a very short sequel titled “Flight of the Red Tail.” Check out a trailer for the original film: