29 Days Of Black History-Day 9: The Tuskegee Airmen

Release Date:   8/26/95; TV Movie (HBO)
Genre:  Drama/Historical
Rating:  PG-13
Director:  Robert Markowitz
Studio(s):  HBO Films, Price Entertainment
Running Time:  106 mins.

Cast:  Laurence Fishburne (Capt. Hannibal “Iowa” Lee, Jr.), Allen Payne (Cadet Walter Peoples), Malcolm-Jamal Warner (Lt. Leroy Cappy), Courtney B. Vance (2ndLt. Glenn), Andre Braugher (Col. Benjamin O. Davis Jr.), Christopher McDonald (Maj. Sherman Joy), Daniel Hugh Kelly (Col. Rogers), John Lithgow (Sen. Conyers), Cuba Gooding, Jr. (Lt. Billy “A-Train” Roberts), Mekhi Phifer (Cdt. Lewis Johns), Rosemary Murphy (Eleanor Roosevelt).

Story:   The Tuskegee Airmen is a 1995 HBO television movie based on the first African-American combat pilots in the United States Army Air Corps that fought in World War II.  During World War II, Hannibal Lee (Laurence Fishburne), traveling by train to Tuskegee, Alabama, is joined by fellow flight cadet candidates Billy “Train” Roberts (Cuba Gooding, Jr.), Walter Peoples III (Allen Payne), and Lewis Johns (Mekhi Phifer). At the start of their training, they are met by Colonel Noel Rogers, the commander of the base; Major Sherman Joy, director of training; and Second Lieutenant Glenn (Courtney B. Vance), liaison officer. The cadets are briefed by Rogers and Joy, both with their own views that set the tone for what the cadets would later face in training: Rogers has an optimistic view, wanting the cadets to prove the naysayers wrong and letting them know how much of an honor it would be for them to pass the training and earn their wings as aviators. Major Joy, however, reflects the views of most of white America at the time, belittling the cadets and questioning whether they are up to the task.

While the cadets begin their classes, Major Joy begins his ploy to discredit the cadets. During a classroom session, Joy has them retake the same flight exam they had to take to get into the program. Later, he takes Peoples on a flight after it is revealed that Peoples has a commercial pilot license. Joy takes the training aircraft through tricky and dangerous moves to try and break People’s will, but the tactic doesn’t work.  Afterwards, Joy explains to Colonel Rogers that some of the cadets may have cheated to get into the program. Rogers informs Joy that no one scored less than a 95 on the retest, and scorns Joy about his tactics.

After a briefing with the cadets, Major Joy sends each cadet on flights in their training aircraft with an instructor pilot. Cadet Johns, struggles to get his aircraft out of a stall. The instructor also tries to regain control but the plane crashes into a building, killing both Johns and his instructor.  The cadets continue their training, flying with their instructor pilots and controlling the planes on their own. Major Joy even lets Cadet Lee make several solo flights around the Base.

Peoples performs some unauthorized aerobatic maneuvers which catches the attention of Colonel Rogers and Major Joy, and results in him being removed from the training program. Peoples pleads with them not to put him out of the program, but to no avail.  To avoid going home in disgrace, an emotionally distraught Peoples commandeers an AT-6 plan and commits suicide by deliberately crashing it.

Back at the cadets’ barracks, tensions and emotions following Peoples’ death begin to reach the boiling point. Cadet Cappy doesn’t see any reason to continue if Major Joy is going to stick with his attempts to break them but Lee fires back, that Major Joy’s game plan was to make them quit, and that he wasn’t falling for it.

Lt. Glen and Cadets Lee, Roberts and Cappy are on a routine training mission when Cappy’s plane begins to experience trouble. Cappy and Lee land on a country road where a prison chain gang are working in a roadside field. As the planes are coming in to land, the prison guards force the prisoners out of the way to make room for the planes to land. The guards are shocked when Lee and Cappy take their flight masks off, revealing themselves as black aviators. The cadets go on to successfully “earn their wings” and are commissioned as 2nd Lieutenants in the Army Air Corps.

The men are eventually deployed to North Africa, as part of the 99th Pursuit Squadron, though they are relegated to ground attack missions. During the campaign, Lee’s flight encounters a group of Messerschmitt Bf 109s. Ignoring Lee’s orders, Cappy breaks formation and attacks, downing one of them. Another Bf 109 hits Cappy’s fighter aircraft numerous times and Cappy is killed when his damaged fighter plane crashes after catching fire.

A congressional hearing of the House Armed Services Committee is convened to determine whether the Tuskegee Airmen experiment should continue. The men are charged with inherent incompetence.  A medical study is used to claim that Negroes are incapable of handling complex machinery.  The hearing results in a decision in the Tuskegee Airmen’s favor, due to testimony by their commanding officer, Lt. Col. Davis (Andre Braugher), and the 99th Pursuit Squadron joins two new squadrons out of Tuskegee to form the all-black 332nd Fighter Group.

The 332nd is deployed to Italy to provide escort for Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bombers, which are experiencing heavy losses. During this deployment, Lee and Billy Roberts (Cuba Gooding Jr.) sink a destroyer. They also rescue a straggling B-17 which is being attacked by two German fighters, shooting down both of the enemy aircrafts.  The B-17 pilot refuses to believe that black pilots saved him.

Later, Lee is awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for sinking a destroyer and promoted to captain. Having by then earned the respect and admiration of the white bomber pilots, the Tuskegee Airmen are specifically requested as escort for a raid on Berlin.  Source:  Wikipedia; IMDB; Imdbf.org; popsugar; appliedmoviereference.blogspot.

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