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'Red Tails' Tells of Triumph

20 Apr, 2012 By: Ashley Ratcliff


David Oyelowo in 'Red Tails'


Fighting the Hitler regime’s injustices in the sky while battling racism from their peers within the U.S. military during World War II was an immense challenge for the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of skillful African-American fighter pilots. These valiant men risked their lives in harrowing air battles, while flying P-51 Mustangs airplanes with tails painted bright red (hence the name “Red Tails”).

Executive producer George Lucas spent 23 years trying to capture the depth of the Airmen’s service in Red Tails. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment May 22 (order date April 25) sends Red Tails out on Blu-ray/DVD combo pack ($39.99) and DVD ($29.98).

Having the pilots on whom the movie is based offering their expertise and seeing the finished product meant all the more to those involved.

“It was just so humbling to meet these guys,” star David Oyelowo said. “I’m an actor. It’s very easy for me to act brave, but to be brave is another thing entirely, and these guys were exactly that. These men made incredible life choices. They had chosen education, responsibility, honor and self-respect. They did not carp about the injustices they suffered. … That was the biggest lesson that they gave me, certainly.”

Oyelowo, who recently starred in Rise of the Planet of the Apes and The Help, said he was “blessed” to work with the legendary Lucas and high-caliber actors such as Cuba Gooding Jr. and Terrence Howard on the action-adventure film.

Red Tails features an ensemble cast that includes Nate Parker, Tristan Wilds, Michael B. Jordan, Elijah Kelley, Lesley Odom Jr., Kevin Phillips, Ne-Yo and Marcus T. Paulk, among others, portraying Tuskegee Airmen.

The pilots are shown as heroes instead of victims, despite the fact that these men did incredible things during the second World War and weren’t thanked for it at the time. Oyelowo said he and his co-stars felt honored to be part of a project that doesn’t come around often for black actors.

“So often you find yourself playing a token character in a movie where it sort of feels like an afterthought,” Oyelowo said. “But with this, we were the center of the story. There was a group of us, as opposed to one. It was a very unique and wonderful experience for us all because it just doesn’t happen every day.”

Oyelowo’s character, Joe “Lightning” Little, is the cocky, risk-taker of the group, which sometimes works to the team’s advantage, and at other times leads them astray. Little is a stark contrast to the soft-spoken father of four.

“That’s the fun thing about being an actor,” Oyelowo said. “You get to explore sides of yourself that you didn’t know were there. I had a lot of fun with that character because he’s absolutely nothing like me.”

One such instance of Little’s boldness is displayed in a riveting scene involving a high-stakes air strike on a moving enemy train. What was even more of a challenge for the actors is that they had to use their imagination, and notes from the filmmakers, to direct them in the flight scenes — and there are many.

“Nothing prepares you for what these geniuses at [Lucasfilm subsidiary Industrial Light & Magic] and CGI people managed to do to make that read as true and completely real,” he said. “... That was a moment in the movie theater that I couldn’t believe, when they would cut to me and I was in the movie. I was like, ‘I don’t even understand how they’ve managed to put me 30,000 feet in the air.’”

Bonus material includes the documentary Double Victory: The Tuskegee Airmen at War; featurettes about Lucas, director Anthony Hemingway, composer Terence Blanchard and the cast; and more.

A fan of watching movies in his home theater — complete with large screens, Blu-ray players, surround sound and all — Oyelowo is eagerly anticipating the home entertainment release of Red Tails.

“One the great things about watching films in Blu-ray is that they’re much closer to what the filmmakers — especially when it comes to big movies like [Red Tails] — had in mind. It sort of replicates the cinematic experience better than just having it in HD or a lower-definition cut of the film. This is what I do for a living, so I want to see movies in their best light.”

Oyelowo said anyone who has ever faced a hurdle (that being everyone) can find encouragement in Red Tails.

“Excellence is what [the Airmen] used to overcome the obstacles in front of them,” he said. “The obstacle just happened to be racism, but … instead of sitting in their own unhappiness, they decided to be brave, to be educated and have fun while they were doing it. That’s what people saw.”


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