The Tuskegee Airmen

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
The Tuskegee Airmen Movie Poster Image
True story of African-Americans in WWII has mature themes.
  • PG-13
  • 1995
  • 106 minutes

Parents say

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Kids say

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive messages

The movie teaches historical lessons about racial bigotry and all the laws and rules used to govern it. It also teaches about the small steps taken to break through the racial barrier and the bravery of the men and women who took those first steps. Viewers should be aware that there are several scenes of racism as well as racist terminology.

Positive role models & representations

Though most of the men depicted in the movie are fictitious versions of the real-life airmen, and the characters are shown to have many human flaws (vanity and pride, for example), they are flat-out heroes, risking not only life and limb but also their very humanity to try and change an unfair system. They also succeed, simultaneously saving lives and going down in history.

Violence

There are plane crashes (mostly stock footage), and many characters die. Characters argue and threaten one another. Some blood is shown.

Sex

There's some minor innuendo here, such as one character wondering if he has lipstick on his collar.

Language

Language includes several uses of the "N" word and "s--t," plus "ass," "damn," "son of a bitch," "bastard," "hell," "dick," "balls," "goddamn," and one use of "God."

Consumerism
Drinking, drugs & smoking

Many characters smoke cigarettes, and characters drink wine in one scene.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Tuskegee Airmen is a drama based on real events that occurred during WWII and a story of how the racial divide in America was slowly overcome. It was made for HBO but briefly released in theaters. Stock footage is used for the aerial and battle scenes, although some characters die, and some crashes are shown as is some blood. There's some very minor sexual innuendo, but language is fairly strong, with uses of the "N" word, "s--t," and "ass," as well as other words. Characters smoke fairly often and drink occasionally. The movie will be worth studying for students trying to understand African-Americans in history. Elements from the same story also were filmed as Red Tails.

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What's the story?

During World War II, Hannibal Lee (Laurence Fishburne) travels to Tuskegee, Ala., meeting other African-Americans, including Billy "A-Train" Roberts (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) and Leroy Cappy (Malcolm-Jamal Warner), all hoping to become pilots in the U.S. Army Air Corps. The men demonstrate great skill but are kept away from the front lines, instead assigned to bomb ground targets. Worse, a bigoted white senator (John Lithgow) wishes to shut the program down, citing "medical evidence" that African-Americans are not capable of being pilots. Fortunately, after success in North Africa, the squad is sent to Italy to become escorts for B-17 bombers, and they achieve a flawless record as well as breaking open racial barriers.

Is it any good?

Produced for cable, THE TUSKEGEE AIRMEN smacks of a low budget, cutting corners and skimming through history. Nonetheless, director Robert Markowitz does the best he can with what he has, making excellent use of a strong cast and using real war footage to help illustrate the flying and battle sequences (and save money on visual effects).

The cast is the movie's best asset, with several types filling in for what might have been, in a longer, deeper movie, strong characters. In only a few short scenes, actors such as Laurence Fishburne, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Courtney B. Vance, and Andre Braugher are able to fill in the blanks, suggesting deep desires and lives lived. The result is undeniably rousing and ultimately moving. It's hard to deny the power of the true story and the effectiveness with which the movie tells it.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the movie's violence. Should it have shown more plane crashes or bloodier deaths? How does it get across the casualties it does show?

  • Are there stereotypes in the movie? Are they white characters or black characters?

  • What did these characters have to prove? How emotionally and physically intense must this experience have been for them?

  • Which other movies have you seen about racism in American history? Do movies like this help people to understand what happened and to develop compassion for others?

Movie details

Themes & Topics

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