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Film / The Tuskegee Airmen

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"As a United States Army officer who gladly puts his life on the line everyday, there's no greater conflict within me: how do I feel about my country, and how does my country feel about me?"
Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin O. Davis, Jr.

The Tuskegee Airmen is a 1995 war film made by HBO, and starring Laurence Fishburne, Cuba Gooding Jr., Courtney B. Vance, Andre Braugher, and John Lithgow, amongst others. It tells the story of the 33nd Fighter Group, better known as the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African-American pilots to serve in the United States Army Air Corps during World War II.

Compare with Red Tails, which is about the same fighter group.

The Tuskegee Airmen contains examples of:

  • Anyone Can Die: Being set in World War II, on top of flying being dangerous even outside of combat, it's inevitable that a number of airmen will be end up killed through various means.
  • Buzzing the Deck: After winning a mock dogfight, Peoples celebrates by performing some maneuvers without permission, including buzzing the airfield. It gets him kicked out of the program.
  • Composite Character: The characters in the film are fictional composites of actual Tuskegee Airmen writer Robert Wayland Williams (a Tuskegee Airman himself) served with. The only exception is Benjamin O. Davis Jr., who would eventually become the first black brigadier general of the U.S. Air Force.
  • Determinator: Despite two of his fellow cadets dying, Cadet Lee states that no one, including "the God damned Commander-In-Chief himself", will stop him from flying. The other cadets also qualify, given that Major Joy is trying his hardest to make them fail.
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: Major Sherman Joy is a particularly nasty example, making racist comments and going out of his way to try and break the cadets.
  • Driven to Suicide: Peoples steals a plane and deliberately crashes it rather than return home in disgrace after being kicked out of the program.
  • Dwindling Party: Thanks to a number of flight-related accidents and the attrition rate of air combat, the original cadets end up getting killed one way or another as the war progresses.
  • Eagle Squadron: Lieutenant Glenn, the cadets' liaison officer, had joined the Royal Canadian Air Force (before the United States had officially entered World War II) and managed to score three kills in their service.
  • Escort Mission: The Tuskegee Airmen were most notable for flying these types of missions, which they start doing here upon being transferred to Italy.
  • A Father to His Men: Colonel Benjamin Davis. He greatly cares about the men under his command, defending them in an inquiry on whether the Tuskegee Airmen program should be shut down, and making sure the pilots know their mission is to survive and complete their mission, not seek glory.
  • Just Plane Wrong: The P-51s seen early in the movie are D-variants, with a bubble canopy. This variant did not exist until late 1943, well after the scenes with them training. In addition, the Airmen did not start off operating the P-51 in North Africa as depicted in the film; in real life, they started off operating the P-40 and P-39 Airacobra and then the P-47, with the P-51s not being received until mid-1944. Explanation - the relatively low-budget film used what was available (a few P-51Ds and T-6 Texans) and the rest was footage from other films; for example, the Bf-109s are Ha-1112s from Battle of Britain. Sharp-eyed viewers will detect when P-51s are magically transformed into Spitfires on occasion.
  • Leeroy Jenkins: After spotting some Bf-109s, Leroy Cappy, bored of ground-attack missions, breaks formation and rushes in to fight them. He manages to shoot one down, but is in turn shot down and killed.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Senator Conyers. He tries to get the Tuskegee Airmen shut down, citing biased studies about the "inferiority" of blacks. Fortunately, they don't go through with it thanks to testimony from Colonel Davis.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: A few of the cadets quit after John gets killed in a crash.
  • Standard Hollywood Strafing Procedure: Averted. The Airmen are initially tasked with ground-attack missions, and we see plenty of Stock Footage of strafing attacks. So it's actual strafing procedures rather than the Hollywood flavor.
  • Stock Footage: WWII-era gun camera stock footage is used to portray the Airmen's attack runs.
  • Veteran Instructor: When Lieutenant Glenn steps in to teach a class, Peoples questions why he's teaching, as Major Joy is their training director. It then turns out Glenn is the only person on the base to have true air combat experience; he had scored three kills as a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force.


Video Example(s):


Black Pilot Testimony

A Black lieutenant colonel testifies before the Senate to make sure the WW2 Black pilot program continues.

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Main / HauledBeforeASenateSubCommittee

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