‘Airmen’ follows black WWII pilots

Stephanie Melchiore

“The Tuskegee Airmen” (1995), directed by Robert Markowitz, chronicles the heroic perseverance of the first group of black men to serve in the United States Army Air Corps. They had to fight to overcome racism on the home front in order to prove their patriotism in combat overseas. The film is named after the Fighter Pilot Program named for the Alabama airbase where the men were trained – where a special project was initiated to integrate black pilots during World War II.

This powerful film, based on true events, follows the group of men through their training in Tuskegee, Ala., to their eventual combat assignments in the war. Despite their training, during which they endured harassment, racism and prejudice, the Tuskegee airmen still did not gain the trust of their own military. Their white superiors refused to accept that black men could fight for and protect a country that treated them as second-class citizens, let alone perform as well as white pilots.

However, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt recognized pilots’ predicament and traveled to Tuskegee to have one of the men take her for a plane ride to show their capabilities.

The trust Roosevelt exhibited led the military to assign the Tuskegee airmen to live combat in World War II, though even when deployed, the men continued to be treated as inferior. The men eventually joined the 332nd Fighter Group with other blacks who went on to earn the recognition and decoration they deserved for being one of this country’s most successful regiments, preventing any bombers from falling to enemy fighters. The film displays the irony of these men fighting in Europe while racism and oppression of blacks still existed on the home front.

The story also shows that these pilots wanted nothing more than to fulfill their childhood dreams of flying and serving their country.

The well-known cast stars Laurence Fishburne as Hannibal Lee, the moral voice of reason in the film. Supporting actors includes Malcolm Jamal-Warner, Mekhi Phifer, Courtney B. Vance, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Andre Braugher as the leader of the group.

“The Tuskegee Airmen” will be shown four times in the Connelly Center Cinema as part of the Cultural Film & Lecture Series: Saturday at 7p.m., Sunday, at 3:30 and 7p.m. and Monday at 7 p.m. Admission is $3.50 for students with ID and $5 for all others. Guest speaker Yvonne Latty, professor in NYU’s Department of Journalism, will introduce the film and then lead a discussion after the Monday evening show.

For more information, contact the communication department at X9-4750 on weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., or consult the Cultural Film Series Web site at culturalfilms.villanova.edu.