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Red Tails



Wartime drama mixes aerial combat, worthy messages, cliches.
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Genre: Action/Adventure
  • Release Year: 2012
  • Running Time: 125 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

The story has strong messages about equality, duty, loyalty, and friendship. The African-American pilots face prejudice at almost every level of the military, but those attitudes are shown to be small-minded and wrong, as the pilots' skill, bravery, teamwork, and dedication to duty finally win over even some of their most bitter detractors. Through sometimes-painful consequences, characters also learn lessons about following orders, believing in themselves, and putting honor above glory.

Positive role models

The Red Tails are daring and brave and eager to fight to defend their country, even though the military (and many Americans in general) see them as second-class citizens. Most of them suffer from some kind of flaw (lack of confidence, overconfidence, bad attitude, etc.), but their relationships with each other and their unit -- and their ability to finally prove themselves in battle -- help them learn from their mistakes. Some of the characters feel a bit stereotypical, but that's largely due to script weaknesses.


Many intense aerial combat sequences as the pilots tangle with German fighters in the air and/or strafe targets on the ground (including trains, trucks, an airfield, and more). Lots of loud gunfire and big explosions, and several scenes feature injured pilots who are struggling to return to their base despite serious, often bloody injuries. Major characters are hurt in battle, and one is captured. Planes catch on fire and crash; early sequences show bomber crews taking severe losses (including close-ups of some dead soldiers' faces). The pilots also occasionally get into fistfights on the ground with each other or with other members of the military.


A pilot courts an Italian woman who lives near their base; they exchange a few kisses, and one scene shows them waking up together (he's shirtless, and she's in lingerie).


Language includes "s--t," "ass," "damn," "bitch," "bastard," "hell," "goddamn," and "crap." A white soldier insults a black pilot using the "N" word. "Negro" is used frequently, as it was a common way of referring to African Americans in the 1940s; "colored" is also used often but is seen as a more derogatory term.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

One character has a drinking problem that grows more serious throughout the film; he frequently sips out of a flask, often seeming desperate for a drink. One of the unit's commanding officers likes to smoke a pipe; cigars are also seen and smoked. Some scenes take place in bars where the soldiers drink to blow off steam.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Red Tails is a World War II action-drama inspired by the real-life Tuskegee Airmen, an all-black fighter pilot squadron. Executive produced by George Lucas, the film has several intense aerial combat sequences (including loud gunfire, fiery explosions, bloody injuries, crashes, and deaths) and shows the racism the aviators encountered every day. It's stirring (if not exactly unpredictable) and patriotic and tells an important story with messages about bravery, duty, loyalty, and friendship. In addition to the many battle sequences, there's some swearing (including "s--t" and the "N" word) and drinking (one character battles a dependence on alcohol), as well as a relationship between one of the pilots and a local Italian girl.

What's the story?

Inspired by the real-life Tuskegee Airmen, RED TAILS follows an all-black fighter pilot squadron in World War II as they face off against German planes in the air and the entrenched racism of the mostly white U.S. military on the ground. Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr. play the senior officers, but most of the story follows four pilots: responsible Marty "Easy" Julian (Nate Parker), who uses liquor to wash away the horrors of war and his own lack of confidence; cocky ladies' man Joe "Lightning" Little (David Oyelowo), the team's best pilot; eager Ray "Ray Gun" Gannon (Tristan Wilds), the youngest flier; and cutup Samuel "Joker" George (Elijah Kelley).

Is it any good?


Red Tails is best when the pilots are in the air. Most of the aerial combat sequences are exciting to watch (though some of the special effects could have used a little more polish). But the film sputters when the planes land. It's clear that the pilots encountered many obstacles from their own compatriots, but the film does a poor job of presenting their stories. The script is filled with preachy, eyerolling-inducing speeches about honor and duty, and cliched characters: the racist officer, the grumpy mechanic, the caricatured German rival, and many more.

How can material this rich go so wrong? The earnest, appealing cast does their best with what they have, but the story jumps from one point to the next without much coherence, and the tone frequently seems jarring; the pilots banter during combat sequences that should leave them shaken and seem to treat the war like an exciting game rather than a life-or-death experience. The Tuskegee Airmen deserve a better tribute than this.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the movie's messages. What do the characters learn about duty and confidence? Why is their story an important one? Are they all positive role models?

  • Talk about the film's historical context. Why were the pilots treated like inferiors? Why were so many people resistant to changing their minds about the pilots' abilities? How could you find out more about the Tuskegee Airmen?

  • Do you think the movie is historically accurate? Why might filmmakers choose to change details of the past when telling their story?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:January 20, 2012
DVD/Streaming release date:May 22, 2012
Cast:Cuba Gooding Jr., David Oyelowo, Nate Parker
Director:Anthony Hemingway
Studio:Twentieth Century Fox
Topics:Friendship, Great boy role models, History, Misfits and underdogs
Run time:125 minutes
MPAA rating:PG-13
MPAA explanation:some sequences of war violence

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Parent Written byEnlightened 1 January 21, 2012

Red Tales - "A Must See Film."

Red Tales is a positive, fun, funny, exciting, feel good, informative, inspirational, and historical movie about African-American pilots in World War II. It will more than likely be shown in classrooms in the near future as it should be, and despite many people trying to keep the movie from being a successful blockbuster class movie, I believe that it will ultimately become one. Not only is this a great movie, I believe it will do so well, that people will positively buzz about it for a very long time to come. Because of plantation minded people initially rating the movie poorly, this is one movie that you really must see for yourself, I felt so good, while everyone responded emotionally to events that were unfolding, as the movie played on. I believe this movie may just show up in history books in the future, as a catalyst of socially constructive and mind changing events of 2012. A must see film.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Teen, 13 years old Written byFILMCRITIC500 March 23, 2012

violence mixes with humor

highly graphic and violent, but loads of humor and jokes to go with it. contains large explosions, graphic and sad deaths, and a VERY high body count.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Teen, 16 years old Written byRobsterReviews June 30, 2012

Red Tails Movie Review

Slightly bland WWII movie has some good action but dreadful dialog
What other families should know
Great role models
Too much violence
Too much swearing
Too much consumerism
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking


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