'Red Tails' airmen have new target: box office

By Lucas L. Johnson Ii

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Jan. 19 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

Black filmmakers and actors are pulling for the movie to be successful because they realize its success could mean more opportunities for them.

"Every black film that's made seems to have a bearing on whether black filmmakers get an opportunity," said Terverius Black, a filmmaker in Huntsville, Ala. "I want to see it be successful."

Joyner said he too wants the movie to have strong box office numbers, but acknowledges it will be challenging.

"You have to make twice the money that you put in just to break even," Joyner said. "You put in $100 million, you got to make $200 million. So this will be pretty monumental."

Some historians and scholars believe the movie's general war theme will be an attraction to all audiences.

Bobby Lovett was a history professor at Tennessee State University in Nashville for nearly 40 years before recently retiring. He often invited some of the Tuskegee Airmen to speak to his students, who were fascinated by their stories.

"There's a sort of romanticism attached to pilots and aircraft," he said. "I don't know of any other story you could pull out of World War II that would be as appealing to an audience."

Vanderbilt University professor Alice Randall said the movie could introduce some to a portion of black history they've never heard.

"We have an opportunity to ... educate viewers, even as we entertain them, about the rainbow of Americans who have performed patriotic duty for this country," said Randall, a writer-in-residence in African American and Diaspora Studies at Vanderbilt.

Tennessee Rep. Tony Shipley, a Kingsport Republican and retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who has attended events with the Tuskegee Airmen, said "the war could have gone a different direction" had it not been for the airmen who escorted bombers deep into Germany.

"Those guys were ... absolutely awesome," said Shipley, who is white. "And if anybody pays attention to the story — who cares black, white, green, yellow — they were Americans. People are alive today whose grandfather would have been killed had it not been for the Tuskegee Airmen."

Vernice Armour, the nation's first black female combat pilot, said the airmen helped pave the way for men and women in the military, and noted a phrase at the bottom of a poster advertising the movie that reads: "Courage has no color."

"Without their honor, courage and sacrifice, I wouldn't be where I am," said Armour, who served two tours during the Iraq War as a Marine.

The Tuskegee Airmen were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for their service in 2007 by President George W. Bush, and were invited to attend President Barack Obama's inauguration in 2009. President Obama and the first lady screened "Red Tails" at the White House last week.

Regardless of its impact at the box office, many believe the inspirational message of the movie will linger for a long time.

"These are the type of films I try to do," Parker said. "Things that ... you can take into our community and effect change in a way that the airmen did."




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