'Red Tails' Actors Laud Airmen

Cuba Gooding Jr. and Terrence Howard urge support for their film about the Tuskegee Airmen.

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Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr. (Getty Images)

The Root caught up with Academy Award-nominated actor Terrence Howard and Academy Award-winning actor Cuba Gooding Jr. during last week's Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C., as the duo promoted their upcoming movie Red Tails alongside the real-life Tuskegee Airmen who served as inspiration for the George Lucas-produced film.

The dimly lit room at the Washington Convention Center was populated by what seemed to be an even split of spectators Friday afternoon -- one half eagerly awaiting a little slice of Hollywood, the other half enthusiastically celebrating the enduring legacy of the country's first troop of black military airmen. Howard and Gooding were met with a barrage of camera flashes before sitting down to preview the Tuskegee Airmen documentary Double Victory, narrated by Gooding and also produced by Lucas.

The documentary showcased the Airmen's triumphs amid the adversities of Jim Crow and segregation in the U.S. military. After the screening, Gooding and Howard sat down with two former Airmen to discuss their roles in the upcoming film and the importance of spreading the history of the Tuskegee Airmen.

"They [the Airmen] were Americans, 100 percent American," Howard said. "There are so many Americans that are ready to stand on the front lines for their country. My God, you give [the black community] a shot ... we'll save the world."

The discussion quickly turned to the status of blacks in Hollywood. Howard and Gooding talked about the importance of the Tuskegee Airmen's story.

"This movie, I truly believe, is something that people are crying out to see," said Gooding, who noted that both he and Howard waived payment for their work on the film.

Gooding, who also starred in the 1995 HBO film The Tuskegee Airmen, believes that Lucas' conceptual approach to depicting the legacy of the Airmen is what differentiates Red Tails from previous films about the black World War II pilots.

"This movie is about the spectacle, about the ability of these pilots," he said. "During a meeting with businessmen, George Lucas said, 'I didn't make this movie for black people; I made this movie for teenage boys."

Lucas' attempt to blend the story of the Airmen into a mainstream action drama bodes well for the inclusion of African Americans' past and present stories in mainstream films. Yet whether or not Red Tails is successful may serve as a litmus test for just how willing Hollywood is to include blacks and black history in movies, according to the actors.

"Now, if this film is not successful -- as good as it is -- it will become the foundation stone on which they can say black films do not have merit," Howard said. "So it's important that this film is supported. If George Lucas does not profit from this, the movie industry will see no profit in the black community."