“Red Tails” Interview: Cuba Gooding, Jr., Terrence Howard and Tuskegee Airmen (Part 2)

Posted by Michael Parsons on September 26, 2011 in / No Comments


(Above from left to right: Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding, Jr.; Tuskegee Airmen Roscoe Brown and Charles McGee – Photograph by Michael Parsons)

(This interview was originally published on September 26, 2011 at The Rogers Revue)

There is still so much that the average history-savvy American doesn’t know about the significance and impact of the Tuskegee Airmen, both domestically and as an effective instrument in Europe during World War II. “Double Victory” captures the hardships and the triumphs of an incredibly strong willed group of men through their very own stories in some tremendously disadvantaged circumstances. Cuba Gooding Jr., who narrates the documentary, talked about education, supporting the Tuskegee Airmen and the importance of “Red Tails”.

“Spread the word to people,” he encouraged. “Spread the word and go see the movie. Lucas put together this “Double Victory” documentary as an educational tool so that kids will get excited about the idea of the Tuskegee Airmen before “Red Tails” comes out. I’m sure that people here know of  institutions that would screen this movie for kids like your local Boys and Girls Club or church services. I’m sure they’d be willing to coordinate that and would appreciate it. I think the more education we get about the airmen before the movie opens, the better.”

With the idea of “Red Tails” having been in the George Lucas pipeline for some time, I was curious how long the actors had been following the development of the project.

“For me,” replied Terrence Howard, “I remember [George] telling me that he was about to do a movie about the Tuskegee airmen. He talked to me about it. You know, you think you’re going to get a call next week, next month, next season…. it was four years later that I got a phone call. I was constantly waiting to receive that call. But it wasn’t like I was going to contact him and say “Hey, George what’s happenin??’” All I could do was ask my agent and see what progress was made. When it became available, I had to go through the necessary groups to see if I can really live up to the nature of the character. And once I could answer that question, it was easier to say ‘yes’ to the beautiful offer that they’d set up for us.”

(Terrence Howard – Photograph by Michael Parsons)

Howard also talked about getting over the wall of adversity.

“Maybe I have a short period of time in my career in which to gauge hitting this ‘wall’, but if you see that wall as a blockade then guess what – you’ll stay behind it forever. That is also wall of opportunity – on top of that is a beautiful horizon. If you can get your footing, you’ll get there. But maybe we need to be more responsible for the funding that we want to get. If it’s a $10 million movie and all you have at your disposal is a $100,000…. well then, limitation brings about genius.”

The actors both shared what they had learned from their experience filming the movie.

“The cadets had three weeks of boot camp for the movie,” said Gooding. “In Prague, in the snow, sleeping in tents, eating rations, and it broke them down mentally. They told us they were so emotionally  exhausted. When Terrence and I talked to them, we talked to them as their commanding officers, and they would respond as such. And I’m not even talking about on the set. I mean when we were anywhere. They were just emotionally raw. It was an amazing experience to come at it that way because I’m usually that guy sleeping in the barracks looking up and some big actor saying, ‘What do you want me to do?’”

Mr. Howard replied, “For me one of things that I learned about it was – it wasn’t necessarily that the black pilots were better than the white pilots. Most white pilots only had three months of flight school before they were shipped out to battle. Because the black pilots were not wanted, they had six months, a year, sometimes two years of practice so the moment they got to the battlefield they were already seasoned pilots. They weren’t shaky in trying to keep their formation. There are so many Black Americans, Asian Americans, Indian Americans that are ready to go and make this stand for their country, for their society. They are all 100% American. We should all be represented as American. But until we are treated with the same respect, we will be designated as something different. But by God, you give us a shot and we’ll save the world.”

Both actors have portrayed Tuskegee Airmen in previous films, Gooding in HBO’s 1995 production “The Tuskegee Airmen” and Howard in “Hart’s War”.

Explained Gooding about “Tuskegee Airmen”, “I think in the first movie what HBO and director Robert Markowitz had focused on was the plight of the black man in Tuskegee Alabama and dealing with the racism and the relations between the white and black soldiers. “Tuskegee Airmen” was more of a dramatic in-depth look at what these men had to overcome. I don’t want to take away from that movie because I think it was instrumental in defining the progression of “Red Tails”.”

(Cuba Gooding, Jr. – Photograph by Michael Parsons)

Gooding says that the new film is about the spectacle and brilliance ofthe actual ability of the fighter pilots.

He reflected, “George said to a room full of black business men and women – billionaires – that he didn’t make this movie for black people, he made it for teenage boys. And I believe that he did do that, and sticking to that only makes the statement more powerful. The last thing we want to do is alienate or denigrate anybody. A man that passed away recently was a father figure of mine, he was a marine, a white man. I’m closer to him than any man in my life. The last thing that I would want to say is that these men were better than John. And they weren’t. They all did the same thing, they gave their lives to their country.”

The 332nd fighter group distinguished their P-47 Thunderbolts by painting the tails red, acquiring the moniker ‘Red Tails.’ At one point, “Double Victory” documents some pilots naming their planes; the most memorable is the one that was nicknamed ‘BY REQUEST.’

“Red Tails” is in theaters January 20th, 2012.

To learn more about the Tuskegee Airmen, please visit:http://www.tuskegeeairmen.org/

To support the Tuskegee Airmen, please visit:http://www.honortheairmen.com/

To view the official Red Tails trailer:


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Michael Parsons

Father. Realtor®. Movie nut. After pestering my parents for their commentary on “Star Wars” when I was four years old, my mind went into a creative frenzy. I’d imagined something entirely different than the actual film, which I didn’t end up seeing until its 1979 re-release at the Uptown Theater in Washington, DC. This was my formal introduction to the cinema.

During that long wait, which felt like an eternity to a child, my mind was being molded by more corrosive stuff like “Trilogy of Terror” and “Rosemary’s Baby”, most of which I’d conned various babysitters into letting me watch on television ( I convinced one poor lady that “Jaws” was actually “Moby Dick”).

The folks were pretty strict in that regard, so the less appropriate it was for a kid to watch, the more I was fascinated by it. Horror staples like “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th”, as well as lesser-known low-budget fare like “Madman”, “Sleepaway Camp” and “Pieces” all ended up sneaking their way into the VHS on a regular basis.

Since then, I’ve developed an obsession with the entire film industry. Even though I watch and review a wide breadth of films these days, my appreciation for the campy, poorly lit micro-budgeters still lends itself to my evolving perspective on movies just as much as the summer blockbusters and Oscar contenders. As I recall my trips to the movie theater, I realize that this stuff is about much more than just a fleeting piece of entertainment.

A couple years ago, I was finally given the opportunity to lend my opinion on films to a publication, The Rogers Revue, with a subsequent run at Reel Film News. It's been both a privilege and a gateway to what we’re doing now. Most of my experience has come from interviewing independent filmmakers, who consistently promote innovation. The filmmaking process is grueling and relatively unforgiving.

Fellow film enthusiast Eddie Pasa and I have created DC Filmdom as a medium for film reviews, discussion, and (inevitably) some debate. And so, the creative frenzy continues.

(Michael is a member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association).

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