by Karina Schultheis

Amid a sea of romantic comedies and horror-suspense movies, the highly-anticipated WWII film “Red Tails” premiered last month. Chronicling the lives of the nation’s first all-African American aerial combat unit, the production boasted household names like Terrance Howard, Cuba Gooding Jr., and – of course – George Lucas.

Lucas spent close to 25 years reviewing logbooks, official transcripts, and interviewing surviving members of the Tuskegee Airmen before the film hit theaters. He covered the entire cost of production with his own finances and provided millions of dollars to allow for distribution. The film was well-researched, well-funded, and well-casted.

So why did they play it so safe?

Despite the fact that the plot addressed multiple controversial themes, the dialogue remained strictly G-rated and at points was practically laughable. Many talented actors contributed to the production, but the plot did not provide adequate opportunity for their characters to develop into lovable and believable people.

The action sequences were exciting, sure; though even these were unrealistic. Considering how much time was spent identifying the different planes, anyone with an elementary knowledge of aviation would understand that many of the tricks depicted were simply impossible. And when a member of the unit is shot down, hurling towards his death, it is difficult not to roll your eyes at his epic last words: “Darn!”

The theme of overcoming racial discrimination is a clear undertone of the film. However, it is difficult to anger and inspire an audience when the actual scenes depicting racism are so underplayed. Profanity and violence are not always necessary, but the film seemed almost to┬ácater to young children — those who certainly would not understand the social importance of what I believe the film was trying t0 say. Glancing through my middle-school history book would play on my heartstrings more than the discrimination seen in “Red Tails” scenes.

This hyper-censoring affected the rest of the film as well. Martin “Easy” Junior (played by Nate Parker) was blessed as perhaps the most developed character in the film. His obvious drinking problem, which causes a rift between his abilities to lead the squad and his ability to respect himself, is another real-world issue that the film attempts to address — but abandons too soon. One of the most powerful scenes in the film is when Easy pours out the remainder of his whiskey after his best friend Lightning (David Oyelowo) has died. Easy’s alcoholism is prevalent throughout the film, but it never truly comes to fruition. He drinks heavily (several times) before jumping into his cockpit during the most important missions. If the film was attempting to address the diabolical nature of alcoholism, why have Easy continue to be the hero? Why not show what really happens when an intelligent, kind, but nonetheless active alcoholic takes the reigns of heavy machinery while extremely drunk?

Overall, the film had incredible potential but fell short due to its unwillingness to take chances. If the producers and directors had been open to offending or disturbing a few people, the underlying purpose of the movie would have been much more direct and evocative. Racism, alcoholism, war, and death are not easily digested topics that parents want their young children to see. I doubt that “Red Tails” was a box-office hit for parents with young children.

So why cater to them? By throwing in a few realistic curse words, by showing a few despicable scenes which upset and inspired the audience, and by allowing the harsh realities of these themes to come to life — the film would have been miraculous.

As it is, it remains lackluster; like its characters Easy and Lightning.

Something that really should have been legendary, but for one reason or another, didn’t live up to its own expectations.