Red Tails…a little off base

Last weekend I headed to the movies, along with throngs of other Black folks, in support of Red Tails, the cinematic Hollywood portrayal of the Tuskegee Airmen which is by all measures a blockbuster.

The George Lucas produced film depicts the potent racist struggle Black pilots had to navigate in order to join the U.S. Air Force, notwithstanding the fight they fought just to defend this country in World War II. This story of the Tuskegee Airmen, like much of our little-known and devalued history, deserves to be told. Watching the film (steered by a Black director, writer, and an all-Black cast of leading actors) I couldn’t contain my pride.

We are all sick and tired of seeing stereotypes of Black men played out in media; from the nightly news to cooning sitcoms to big screen flashes of men in dresses. It is a daily fight to resist what we know is NOT the norm of brothas. We know Black men are hard workers who commit to their responsibilities, affectionate and respectful of the women in their lives, proud of their accomplishment, not to mention intelligent and articulate. So for me, seeing that visualized on the big screen as a major production was a glorious moment in time.

I am proud that I saw Red Tails. Proud that my husband, children and I shared the experience as a family. And even still proud that my choice to go out and see it during opening weekend was included in the chorus demanding more positive, full-bodied films about Black life.

Yet, midway through the film I did lean over to my husband and whisper my concern of the absolute absence of Black women on the screen?!!? Now I cautiously pointed this out.  But not before I checked myself and my filters. I mean this was, after all, a film about the experience of the Tuskegee AirMEN. So, no I did not go into the theatre expecting to see women in major roles…I honestly would not have minded if there were no women in the film (well it would bother me just a teeny bit).

However, it is because of the fact that there was only one woman given a major role in this film; a film about one of the most historical contributions Black Men have made in this country, that I am most aggravated. That one woman was Daniela Ruah. A White woman.

This has stumped me. Still I know my person; that I have been viewed as being a little subversive when it comes to Black women and our plight in media. I accept that I am intensely aware of societal “norms” and how those norms are guided by patriarchy and racism. Conversely I questioned every possible filter to find why this bothered me so much, and IF it should.

I must say, all the soul-searching in the world won’t shake my disappointment. Disappointed for a few reasons. The most glaring reason is that there is not a Black man on this earth who can say he has not been nurtured, loved, encouraged, chastised,  or influence by a praying Black woman. Hold my mule right now if I’m exaggerating…

Didn’t think so. Before a Black man even understands the dynamics of an intimate relationship or attraction to women, he is familiar with the love o a Black woman. This is why, for the life of me, I cannot grasp how the audience comes to know the influence of the father of Easy’s character and Black Jesus, but never that of a mother, grandmother, Big Ma, sis, fiance or wife back home…

Beyond befuddled. Especially when considering the real-life stories of Tuskegee Airmen boasts solid marriages with Black women…many were married during their time of duty.

Now let’s factor in the enormous attention this film got after George Lucas, the formidable Hollywood  director (Star Wars Trilogy) who happens to be white, revealed how many rejections he received from studio heads to produce and distribute this film. He was quite literally the great white hope for Red Tails- the Hollywood version.

That speaks volumes to how we had to get this right…this was our one shot. This sets the bar…at what ever level we believe we qualify for. Whatever is in this film will be considered the formula for movie execs when considering Black films. That formula will be devoid of an intimate and sanguine relationship between a Black man and woman. Conversely it will have Black men pining over the foreign (read exotic) love interest of a lighter hue.

Just on the other side of perturbed.

On the brighter side, I wasn’t so miffed that I would discourage other people from seeing  Red Tails. However I do see this as a valid point of discourse about 1.) the image mainstream media is pushing regarding Black male/female relationships; and 2.) the historical shared experience we have had breaking down barriers in America and 3.) last but not least is the consistent symbolic annihilation of Black women by media which in turn erases us from the history books.

Am I off-base?

Please join the discussion during #GirlsMediaChat on Twitter, 9p CST Thursday, Jan 26 (TONIGHT)

Get the real history of Tuskegee Airmen:

Follow the Tuskegee Airmen dedicated Tumblr started by National Museum of African American History and Culture 

Listen to living legends share their stories on StoryCorps

Check out Red Tails Reborn, a PBS documentary

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