I am probably one of the few film critics (if not the only one) to have actually visited Tuskegee, Alabama. As a travel writer, I visited the area to see the school, Moton Field and the charming Kellogg Hotel at Tuskegee. I also have visited with several Tuskegee Airmen and listened to not only their tails of battle, but also their departure from and return to Jim Crow South and the segregated atmosphere they faced in the Army.


The US War Department had a rule that demanded segregated forces of military units. This was initially begun with the 9th and 10th Calvary and 24th and 25th Infantry - all commonly called the Buffalo Soldiers. It was again executed with the 761st Tank Battalion under General George S Patton.


After much dickering, the Army Air Corps engaged in an experiment to train black pilots. Tuskegee was the only pilot training facility that included every facet of training - to make sure the blacks were kept separate from the whites. You learn all this when you visit the site which is now operated by the National Park Service.

After extensive training and a lot of military bickering, the 99th Pursuit Squadron was finally assign the task of attacking the island of Pantelleria to make way for U S Naval ships heading to invade Sicily. Their attack on the island was historic in that it was the first time an enemy ground fight unit - over 11,000 of them - surrendered to an attack from the air.


The next squadron to be engaged was the 332 Fighter Group which escorted the Fifteenth Air Force bombing raids into Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary, Poland, and Germany. They served with tremendous distinction.


They accomplished all this though they were assigned the worst equipment; the whites always got the better equipment. And, much like the 716 Tank division, when they returned home to the United States they were still greeted with the same Jim Crow laws and life they temporarily escaped.


That's the history and you can easily learn more by reading some of the many, many books on the Airmen, or by watching the History Channel's episode of the documentary TV series Dogfights, or by watching HBO's 1995 series "The Tuskegee Airmen", or by visiting Tuskegee as I did. You will be well rewarded if it is something you are interested in.

I said all this because a lot will be made of the fact that George Lucas' new film "Red Tails" makes little mention of the squadron's civil history and prejudices they faced. Much will be said that their should have been much more history included; that the film is too shallow. The fact is that George Lucas hasn't been involved in a documentary since a documentary on "Labyrinth" in 1986; before that... none since he was in college.


"Red Tails" which he championed and produced out of his own pocket is not a documentary. It is, by his own admission, an action flick. He has always been a fan of the aerial dogfights which is why there are so many on the Star Wars saga. So guess what the main focus of "Red Tails" is? Duh!


With a huge cast including Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr. along with a few converted rap stars, director Anthony Hemingway - with the oversight of Lucas - presents a film the features really tight well shot aerial dogfights. It revolves around the the 332 Fighter Group, glances at the assembly of the airmen and a swat at the segregation of the group, but the movie is basically one long aerial dogfight.


Because, that's what the Tuskegee Airmen did... they flew. Countless missions. The were so successful that white bombers requested their assistance before taking off.

Oh yeah, there is smidgen of dialogue with Howard as Colonel A.J. Bullard and Gooding Jr as Major Emanuelle Stance. And yeah "Red Tails" has a couple of small side subjects - one a love story between the groups ace Lightning (David Oyelowo) and a hot Italian gal (Daniela Ruah), the other involving the squad leader 'Easy' Julian (Nate Parker) and his drinking - but those are insignificant filler for the action. There are even moments with Germans waving their fists at the pilots declaring "Sie sind afrikanische Piloten!" (They are African pilots!) But the majority of the film is shot POV in aerial combat. And that's where the film succeeds. The dogfight scenes are off the hook. No thinking required.


It's hard to say that in it's 2-hour time frame that there was room for more history or a focus on Jim Crow. I'm sure that if Lucas had wanted a focus on history instead of action he would have hired Spike Lee as director. Lee added an awkward moment of history in his film "Miracle at St Anna" and critics panned it because of the scene. Note the hypocrisy.


"Red Tails" is a really cool actioner that will please folks into aerial dogfights - the "Top Gun" crowd. As to whether it makes money considering it's big budget is moot. Mr Lucas has $4 billion dollars to do with as he pleases. So thank you George for the first big budget action film with a mostly black cast!   -- GEOFF BURTON