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Sun Reporter: Thursday, January 26, 2012 As I See It.............

Red Tails: A Review................ The Bleaching of American History- A Correction By Fannie Wiley Preston, Ph.D. For weeks emails were flying into my mailbox from everyone I know. They were telling me to see Red Tails, the new movie about the Tuskegee Airmen, the first weekend of its release. During the opening weekend receipts are calculated and movies declared a success or a failure. If a movie does well, it stays in theatres and stays on the top ten list. If it doesnt do well, it is sent right to DVD. When I looked at my calendar, the only time I could go to see the movie that particular weekend was on Friday, the first day of its release. I have no need to go out to a movie. I have everything I need at home. So my husband and I rarely go out to a theatre. There is no reason to leave the comforts of home just to see a movie. We have a 52 inch high definition television with cable: Comcast on Demand, HBO and other premium channels. In addition to the movies broadcast on the regular network channels, we have Netflex and Blockbusters. We also pop our own popcorn at a fraction of the cost. My husband looked for a showing on the internet. He came to me and said: The only time I could find the movie showing is 12:10 AM

and I am not going that early in the morning. . I went on-line and I found the same thing. I panicked and got angry. I was fuming that the only time they were showing it was at that ridiculous hour. Once again, that would ensure that a movie about African Americans would be a failure. (Why do we immediately think the worst?) I was wrong. I called a friend who is a computer expert. She worked in the technology field before she retired. She calmed me down. She told me we were looking at was the time movie was released. She told me how to find the movie times in my area at a later time in the day. What that demonstrated to me was the limits of our computer literacy. What happened to the listings in the newspapers? Are they still there? We found a theatre close to home and we went to see the movie at 11:00 AM on a Friday morning. I was expecting an empty theatre. But to my surprise at that hour theatre was 35% full with a multicultural audience, about 20% African American. Contact your friends and encourage them see the movie cajole, beg, and insist that they do. The incredible action sequences and dogfights will capture the interest of the male teenagers and young adult males. But wait a minute - my alarm was not too far fetch. George Lucas spent 20 years trying to get this film funded. I heard so many stories about how difficult it was for him. He could not find a backer and once it was made he could not find a distributor. George Lucas was

interviewed on the Oprah show. He stated that he believed in the movie so much, that he put $100 million dollars of his own money into the project. The studios were resistant to the idea of an all black cast in an all black story that required such a large production budget. Despite his Star Wars track record, they were afraid they would not get their money back. A movie with an all Black cast would not have broad appeal. He persevered and struggled until he got the movie made. Red Tails is in theatres NOW!!! Once he got the film made, he had difficulty getting it distributed. Finally in the Bay Area it was distributed by AMC Films and Century 21. We need to let him know it is appreciated. We can see his hand in the storytelling and the editing of this film; the authentic scenes and the characterizations African Americans can identify with directly or by the family stories they have been told. George Lucas had to be determined and truly care about and had a passion for this film in order to persevere for 20 years. The best way to show appreciation is MONEY, to make it a financial success - so buy tickets. This is the major thing that gets attention in American society. As we know from Obamas political campaign, a lot of little donations can grow to a lot of money. A friend suggested

that we buy batches of tickets and give them away to young people we know, churches and youth organizations. You know the copycat syndrome in Hollywood and TV. Once something is successful, everyone starts to do it. We have too many heroic stories that need to be made not to make this work. The final blow came when I read the movie review in the Chronicle. I read the review Friday morning before departing for the theatre. The little man was sleeping. (The icon used to rate movies.) The review was negative. The reviewer had numerous criticisms. The primary one was that the movie lacked realism. This may be true. But hurling that missile misses the point. The story needed to get out there in a way that people could understand its significance and not get distracted by gritty details that would not contribute to or advance the story. By comparison and contrast, was Gone with the Wind realistic; was Midway realistic; was Titanic realistic; was the Streets of New York realistic. It may not be realistic but it is authentic. Three former Tuskegee Airmen were on the set consulting with the film makers. In all fairness, the reviewer acknowledged that the story needed telling. His point was that it deserved a better movie. While we are waiting for that better movie, we will embrace this one and celebrate it as an important milestone.

African American stories are bleached from the history books. The purpose of this film is to correct the systematic and deliberate bleaching process, the omissions from the American History taught in the schools. Textbooks that fail to report the contributions of African Americans to building this great country. This film documents cinematographally those African American pilots, disregarded and shamed throughout the war, who eventually became one of the most decorated fighter squadrons. They earned the respect of their counterparts by their exemplary record of achievement. They deserve to have this record revealed to the general public. Eradicating racism is a long term proposition and hard work. It can be done incrementally, generation by generation by getting to know each other, working together toward a common goal(s)learning to trust each other and making deposits in your emotional bank account, earning the respect of the other party. This process pays dividends in the world of race relations. There was a scene where racism reared its ugly head. Joe Lighting Little (David Oyelowo) a trained Shakesperan actor who had never heard of the Tuskegee Airmen, growing up in London and Nigeria, entered an officers club and ended up in a brawl when they refused to serve him. As time passed and the Airmen successfully completed their missions of protecting a convoys of bombers entering Berlin without any loss of airplanes or life, things began to change.

In another scene, a group of white soldiers approached the group of Tuskegee Airmen. As they came closer to each other you could see the airmen visibly pull back. What the white soldiers did was congratulate them and offer to buy them a drink. This was the same bar from which Lighting was ejected a short time before. The Tuskegee Airmen had earned their respect. Dont you remember your mother telling you, You have to be better to get the same recognition. This should not be the case but it is - telling African American children that must be better for the same reward may breed resentment. This resentment may turn outward or inward but it must be processed and embraced or it turns inward or outward. It is true, a reality of life. Accepting it without rancor is a sign of emotional maturity. I see a greater purpose for a film like Red Tails. That purpose is: to enhance the self esteem of minority students, particularly African American students. High self esteem, seeing yourself as a learner, is directly related to high academic achievement. Scholarship and winning Spelling Bees need as much value as winning a football game. Such films as this have the potential for addressing the academic achiement gap between Hispanic and African American students and Caucasian and Asian students.

This is a great time for the self esteem of African American students. They see someone just like them in the White House, President Barak Obama. A beautiful, accomplished Black women by his side, Michele Obama and two children just like them. It doesnt get any better than that for self-esteem. Red Tails teaches some powerful lessons. Among those lessons are: (1) To be Successful Work Hard. You can succeed if you never give up no matter what obstacles you face; (2) Know who you are and be who you are. You can succeed in spite of your circumstances and difficulties in life, whether internal or external. Never give up. Work on you flaws and build on your strength. Remember you are a child of the living God and He doesnt make any junk. (3) Find your spiritual center. Seek out inspirational movies that are not sports, rap, or music. These movies have their place in a balanced life but they are not all there is. Take your children to see them . There are other movies out there, but not enough, and we need to demand more. Hollywood is notorious for attempting to replicate success (the copycat syndrome). If this movie is successful you will see a dramatic increase in similar movies. What distinguishes this movie from other African American Movies is the subject matter. It is the same genre as Akeelah and the Bee and the Great Debaters. We need more stories like these. Stories that will capture the attention

of African American youth and young adults. This movie also distinguishes itself because it does not require a white person to jettison in at the end to save the day. It does not have music, or sports as its theme. This review is also a call to action. There are so many things you can do. Remember the Power of One Put your bucket down where you are. People in power often listen more intently when they receive a large volume of mail. Lets start a letter writing campaign to newspapers, email blasts, word of mouth, newspapers, Members of the Academy of Motion Pictures. Contact your friends and encourage them see the movie. Lets use the power of social media: You Tube, Twitter and Facebook. Lets get this movie on the top 10 list and nominated for an academy award. I respect differences of opinion. African Americans dont all share the same opinion and I would not expect them to. I am sure others may disagree with me like I disagree with the Chronicle columnist. Thats the beauty of America. A healthy debate and dialogue are encouraged. Over the final credits the movie music was playing: God Bless America. In the words of Martin Luther King, we pray that God will bless America and help her live out the true meaning of her creed that...All men are created equal and entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Im all choked up just thinking about it.


Fannie Wiley Preston is the former dean, School of Education, Saint Marys College of California; former Associate Dean at San Francisco State and Professor of Reading/Language Arts. She taught in the San Francisco Unified School district and served as supervisor of Reading and Libraries for the District. She is now retired and living in the East Bay. She is a free lance contributor of articles to the Sun Reporter.

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