Red Tails Gets Extensive Preview at NY Comic Con
By Bryant Shiu, for e-Hotline
December 1, 2011 – Note: Bryant Shiu, a contract copy editor for EAA Publications, attended October’s annual New York Comic Con, which held a special preview of Red Tails, George Lucas’ movie about the Tuskegee Airmen set to premiere on January 20, 2012.
Lucasfilm’s upcoming epic features spectacular dogfights between fighters zooming around warships bristling with firepower. Pilots perform their duties with derring-do and unwavering bravery. But instead of combat taking place eons ago and in the unmistakable realm of fantasy, the real-life exploits of the Tuskegee Airmen portrayed in Red Tails show men fighting during a time not too long ago, in a galaxy right here.
On October 15, attendees at the four-day New York Comic Con got a preview of the World War II action-adventure. Before the Red Tails guests entered the large meeting room early Saturday afternoon, I took a seat and anticipated the presentation as much as those around me. Many of us were there because of the historical and cultural significance of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African American aviators in the U.S. Army Air Forces. Others attended because Red Tails was by Lucasfilm and wanted an early look at a movie that promised a great deal of the same kind of thrills found in a Star Wars flick.
I attended for a personal reason - in the end. World War II has been a subject of fascination for me, especially in recent years. Like my fellow nerds in the audience, I’ve loved my share of Star Wars films, but I also count Saving Private Ryan among my favorite movies, too. And the more I research my grandfather’s service in the war, the more I want to know about that time in general. Chu Kai Chow was an officer and a fierce fighter. He might have been king of the ground pounders and therefore not an aviator, but the fact that Red Tails tells a WWII story was enough of a reason in itself.
When the guest speakers entered the stage, I found that the panel comprised of visual effects supervisor Craig Hammack; co-writer Aaron McGruder; actors Michael B. Jordan and Leslie Odom Jr.; and, to my surprise, an actual Tuskegee Airman. Dr. Roscoe Brown, who had commanded the 100th Fighter Squadron of the 332nd Fighter Group, received a standing ovation upon his introduction. As Roscoe spoke, however, only then did I know exactly how well deserved was his reception.
The New York Comic Con in the Big Apple is one of the largest comic conventions and multimedia events in the world. Thousands of comics and sci-fi fans attend it each year, many of them dressed up as their favorite characters. So it was unique that at a major event known for celebrating fictional heroes, a real-life hero took the spotlight. Roscoe is a character in his own right. Brimming with a life experience that could only be gained from the times he has lived in, Roscoe has a down-to-earth openness about him.
He served America at a time that racial discrimination and segregation were ubiquitous, including within the military. Roscoe said it wasn’t a good feeling to fight for your country when you weren’t treated equally. Still, the world needed saving, and he wanted to fight any way he could. Joining the ranks of the Tuskegee Airmen provided a chance for him to do so. According to Roscoe, when you’re faced with adversity, it makes you try even harder.
The audience saw the Red Tails trailer first, followed by never-before-premiered clips from the movie. The trailer and clips showed enough thrilling action to rival any scenes in other Lucasfilm adventures. Upon hearing the speakers and watching the footage that day, I took note of a recurring theme: WWII had made a tremendous impact on Star Wars and sci-fi in general. Instead of flying through the starry endless night of outer space, WWII fighters soared into the blue and fought in cloud-filled, smoke-strewn skies. The starships that traveled like leviathans in Star Wars and countless other sci-fi movies and TV series were stand-ins for bombers, battleships, and aircraft carriers. As Red Tails producer, George Lucas went back to the source of his inspiration.
Roscoe provided ample inspiration for Red Tails with his own exploits. In one of the clips, German jet fighters brazenly buzzed past P-51 Mustang prop planes as both sides fought. The exceedingly faster jet fighters played a cat-and-mouse game of sorts - until one of the “mice” outmaneuvered a cat and blew it to bits. Roscoe told the audience of the time he stealthily used a bomber as cover while his Mustang snuck up on a speedy Messerschmitt 262 and perforated it. He was one of three Tuskegee Airmen to shoot down these jet fighters with the more maneuverable P-51s.
After every piece of footage, we heard Roscoe’s observations. Each time he saw a scene from Red Tails, he felt like he returned to his cockpit. Roscoe said it “takes me back. And I’m young again.”
In addition to the trailer and clips, the panel showed documentary footage of the two actors flying backseat in fighters for the first time. The objective of the pilots was to get their passengers sick. Both planes made high-speed spins and turns, all the while with their passengers yelling - and whooping. At some point in both flights, the actors brought out their smartphones and started taking pictures! Only at the end of the footage did the audience find out if the actors got sick; the screen flashed the words “Zero Sick Bags.”
“These guys were pretty soft when they started,” Roscoe said with an amused tone. “It was our job to toughen ’em up and make them as cocky as us. But they were even cockier.”
Everybody in the audience could feel the inspiration, fun, and warmth provided by Roscoe. After the panel, I had to meet him. The Comic Con people were trying to move him to the autograph area, but attendees would manage to stop him several times to get his signature. Before we got anywhere near the autograph area, I became one of those attendees.
I introduced myself as he signed my Red Tails poster. “My grandfather fought in World War II and was a great soldier,” I said, “but I never had the chance to meet him. I’m glad to meet you.”
“Where did he serve?” he asked.
I only had time for an indirect answer. “He was in the Chinese Army,” I said. “He fought the Japanese, the Axis.”
Seconds later, Roscoe was whisked away. I started to head to my next destination at the show, but I stopped in my tracks and looked back for a moment.
I realized that what I did just then was the best thing I would do all weekend at a place filled with fantasy heroes.
Red Tails opens January 20. I’m looking forward to it more than ever.