tek's rating: ¾

The Tuskegee Airmen, HBO
Amazon; Crave; HBO Shop; IMDb; Made for TV Movie Wiki; TV.com; TV Tango; Wikipedia

I'm fairly sure I was aware of this when it first aired in 1995, but I couldn't see it at the time, since I didn't get HBO. Still, I rather hoped I'd get a chance to see it someday, because the subject matter (which was based on a true story) seemed interesting, and it had a good cast. And I finally got it on DVD in 2016.

The movie takes place in 1942-43, when there was an "experiment," wherein the Army Air Corps trained African-Americans to be fighter pilots for the first time. Before this, they had never been allowed to serve as pilots, and many white Americans thought Blacks to be inherently incapable of it. Anyway, the first half of the movie is set at an Air Corps training base in Tuskegee, Alabama. The story focuses on a number of cadets, including Hannibal Lee (Laurence Fishburne), Billy 'Train' Roberts (Cuba Gooding, Jr.), Walter Peoples III (Allen Payne), Leroy Cappy (Malcolm-Jamal Warner), and Lewis Johns (Mekhi Phifer). The base is run by Colonel Rogers, who wants the experiment to succeed. The director of training is (the inaptly named) Major Joy, who seems to be against the experiment's existence. But mostly we see the liaison officer, 2nd Lieutenant Glenn, who, unlike the other officers, is black. And... I don't want to spoil any details, but suffice to say not every cadet will make it through training, for one reason or another.

Those who do become pilots are commissioned as lieutenants, but it will still be several months before they are allowed to join the war. Meanwhile, a senator named Conyers (John Lithgow) wants to put an end to the Tuskegee experiment, citing various reports that are obviously lies, but which he considers unimpeachable. However, after First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt visits Tuskegee base and is impressed by the pilots, they're finally assigned to the 99th Pursuit Squadron, in North Africa. Their commanding officer is Lt. Colonel Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. (Andre Braugher). The 99th later joins the 332nd Fighter Group, which is assigned to Italy as escorts for B-17 bombers. (The planes of the 332nd came to be known as "Red Tails," because the tails of the planes were painted red. This idea was attributed in the movie to a mechanic called "Tank.")

That's really all I want to divulge of the plot, except to say that of course the Black pilots faced a lot of discrimination and attempts to cause them to fail, but ultimately they ended up being some of the best pilots in the Air Corps. Anyway, I definitely thought it was a good movie, and I'm glad to have finally seen it.

TV movies index