“Defining Moments” is a continuing series exploring key scenes or sequences from Lucasfilm’s many productions. It examines storytelling craft, behind-the-scenes insights, and cultural legacies from each selection. Revisit an old favorite or discover something brand new…
Celebrating Red Tails On Its 10th Anniversary
Production: Red Tails (2012)
It is early morning at Ramitelli Airfield, Italian headquarters for the Tuskegee Airmen in World War II. About to take off on a dangerous mission, the pilots have gathered into a circle on the tarmac. David “Deke” Watkins (Marcus T. Paulk) leads them in a humble prayer. The men are linked arm in arm, and as the prayer ends, a battle cry ensues.
“Nothing’s difficult,” one voice says. “Everything’s a challenge,” the group sounds off. “Through adversity,” the voice cries, “to the stars!” the pilots respond. “From the last plane, to the last bullet, to the last minute, to the last man, we fight!” Marty “Easy” Julian (Nate Parker) yells. The group continues to repeat “We Fight!” before moving off, one by one, to their red-tailed P-51 Mustangs.
The pilots had heard these words before, spoken by their commanding officer, Colonel A.J. Bullard (Terrence Howard). The Colonel had just returned from Washington D.C. where he’d successfully lobbied to earn his pilots the chance to perform bomber escort missions. Some bigots in the establishment had resisted the idea of allowing Black pilots to take on such a high-priority assignment. Colonel Bullard persevered, and ensured that his squadrons would forgo the personal glory of chasing after enemy planes for the sake of protecting American bombers and their crews.
“We count our victories by the bombers we get to their targets,” Bullard told the men, “by the husbands we return to their wives, by the fathers we get back to their children. What has not changed, what will never change, from the last plane, to the last bullet, to the last minute, to the last man, we fight! We fight!”
The defining issue of protecting the friendly bombers is at the core of the Red Tails story. The pilots learned that to overcome adversity, their best chances lay in the pursuit of excellence. As a work of historical fiction, Red Tails was grounded in the truth of the real-life Tuskegee Airmen’s combat record, among the best in bomber protection of the war. Their actions stood as an answer to skeptics, bigots, and apathetic bystanders alike.
“You can imagine going into the air, into combat,” described actor Kevin Phillips, who played Leon “Neon” Edwards in the film, “flying a small plane, going hundreds of miles per hour, having bullets flying at you. You have family back at home. This could be the last day of your life… I think you need to have that moment of reflection on your life and where you’ve come from, the people you care about, and go into combat with that inspiring you. It makes you stay on point and be specific to what you’re supposed to do.”