Our nation’s coming off a holiday commemorating the triumphs of Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Hollywood, in a calculated bit of release-schedule timing, has a feature film on the pioneering Tuskegee Airmen arriving in theaters. And you, dear reader, are wondering if the high-flying Red Tails
is appropriate for your child.
But you’ve endured my droning for multiple columns, so this week I’ve got a treat. 20th Century Fox invited me sit down with Terrence Howard, Cuba Gooding Jr. and the cast of Anthony Hemingway’s WWII drama, and with the time allotted, I asked them when they thought it would be appropriate to show Red Tails to an interested child. Who better to comment on the source material then the men who gave their time and talents to bring Red Tails to the big screen?
And as an added bonus, I ran my When Can I Watch question past Dr. Roscoe Brown, an actual member of the Tuskegee Airmen who endured the harsh training camps, fought in the war on behalf of our proud nation, and contributed to the Civil Rights Movement upon returning from Europe’s battlefields. You’re going to want to hear his response.
So, let’s climb into the cockpit, wage aerial war on the Nazis, and figure out when you can watch Red Tails with your kids in our very first All-Star Celebrity Edition of the When Can I Watch column!
Green Lights: “An action-adventure movie with true heroes
who actually are real heroes, not caped ones.”
Terrence Howard wins the award for best, most-honest answer to the question of When Can I Watch Red Tails With My Kids?
“On January 20th!” he exclaimed, without batting an eye. The Fox marketing department should be delighted.
Once I clarified, though, Howard estimated that 5-year-old kids can handle the action on screen in Red Tails, explaining, “We don’t curse inside of the film. There’s only one use of the ‘N’ word, which gives us the right perspective of it. It’s more of a film about doing what you need to do, having the responsibility and the discipline and the determination to do your very best. I think it’s a film for all ages.”
Executive produced by George Lucas
George Lucas), Red Tails
tells the true story of the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of African American pilots who fought in World War II as part of the U.S. Army Air Corps. Anthony Hemingway (Treme
, CSI: N.Y.
) directs the ensemble drama, casting Oscar winner Cuba Gooding Jr., Oscar nominee Howard, and a cast of young actors to bring the story of the Red Tails – pilots with recognizable crimson bands on the backs of their planes – to the big screen.
Yet, if you’ve seen the aerial footage in the film’s assorted trailers and clips, you might think back to a sci-fi classic from our youth … and with good reason.
“The prism to look at [Red Tails] through is Star Wars,” said David Oyelowo, who plays Joe “Lightning” Little in Hemingway’s film. “The dogfights that we have in the movie were what inspired [Lucas] to film the battles that you see in Star Wars. George knows that audience, and that was the audience that he sees in his mind when he set out to make this film. The fact that it has a tinge of history of it should not be the thing that keeps people away. It’s an action-adventure movie with true heroes who actually are real heroes, not caped ones.”
And like most superhero adventures of the day, the action and thrills in the movie are kept relatively safe for a wider, younger audience.
“You don’t even see the blood and guts, and you don’t miss not seeing it,” Howard added. “You feel the emotional impact, and the potential of loss. It’s a very well-done story.”
Don’t believe Howard? Then take it from a man who actually fought in those key WWII battles, and who contributed his precious knowledge to Hemingway’s feature.
“I think anybody who is over 9 or 10 years old can experience the movie,” said Dr. Roscoe Brown, a member of the Tuskegee Airmen who served as a creative consultant on Tails. “As a matter of fact, George Lucas says that it’s aimed at 10- to 13-year olds. The action rivals what these kids have seen in films like Star Wars. It’s not action that’s going to frighten people. It’s very exciting. The air-to-air [sequences] show proper maneuvers.”
“It tells a story that people can identify with,” Brown continued. “I think that people should not be concerned about bringing their young children.”
Red Flags: “They don’t know what barriers we had to overcome.
And they don’t know how far we have come.”
Unless, of course, they’re distracted by soap opera plotting. You see, a lot of the action in Red Tails does take place in the air, where the Red Tails play “bodyguard” to U.S. bombers dropping ammunition across Italy, France and Germany.
“Definitely, 10-year-old boys are going to love this,” Gooding tells me. “It is designed for them. When they see the planes, their eyes are going to bug out.”
But a fair amount of the narrative takes place on the ground, where the pioneering soldiers are forced to work through dramatic (and some melodramatic) obstacles tied to their race, their gender and their loyalty to each other. One soldier falls in love with a local beauty. Another is captured behind enemy lines. Some airmen are injured in battle, and there’s blood, but not to a gratuitous extent.
These subplots will interest parents, but could have antsy little ones asking for a trip to the bathroom or the concession stand.
Yet even in these asides, when the planes are grounded but the dramatic tension is high, Gooding points out that our so-called “entitlement generation” can pick up a few tips about learning how to cope when someone tells you again and again that you can’t do something, that you’ll never succeed, and then you triumph against impossible odds.
“I think it teaches you to get something to fight for, to recognize the skills that you have,” Gooding says. “If you think about the Red Tails, about the Tuskegee Airmen, they set off the Civil Rights Movement.”
Which, I think, is exactly why Dr. Brown said parents also should bring their older kids – much older, in his opinion – so they can glean a valuable lesson from this remarkable story.
“Personally, I think it’s aimed at 20- to 30-year-olds, because many of them don’t know what discrimination was,” Brown said. “They don’t know what barriers we had to overcome. And they don’t know how far we have come, even though we have a long way to go yet.”
I commend the men of Red Tails for their honesty in the face of a marketing question. It’s not their business from discouraging any audience from seeing their movie, so I had to chuckle when Cuba Gooding Jr. said four-year-olds can handle Red Tails.
That age is low, though. There is combat-specific violence on screen, and while Hemingway's film softens the impact of war – this isn’t Full Metal Jacket, by any stretch – it’s still a little mature for children under the age of 10.
However, the Red Tails cast was on the money when they pointed out that the film carries important messages about camaraderie, persistence, fortitude and courage in the face of nearly impossible obstacles, so from a historical and personal perspective, Red Tails can be an excellent teaching tool for parents, when their children are ready.
If you’d like to read previous entries in the "When Can I Watch That With My Kids?" series, click right here. Some of the films covered: Star Wars, Back to the Future, The Goonies, Hugo, The Princess Bride, The Monster Squad and Elf, to name just a few.