When he first found out about the Red Tails of the US Air Force’s 332nd Fighter Group, Lucas tracked down some of the surviving veterans and listened, shocked and enthralled, to their stories of segregation and racial discrimination.
They were among the most heroic fighter pilots in World War Two. Because the pilots, more than 400 of them, were all black.
The courageous and daring US Red Tail squadrons destroyed 112 German planes in the air, another 150 on the ground, hundreds of trains and trucks, even a ship. Recruited in Tuskegee, Alabama, they were organised into segregated squadrons by the US Air Force.
Yet there was no heroes’ return for them after the war.
And as 1940s racist America celebrated victory, these second-class citizens were simply forgotten and left to drift back to their pre-war poverty-stricken existence of segregation and humiliation. there are no major white roles,” says producer Lucas, 67.
One Red Tail even recalls walking down the gangplank at New York harbour on his return from the war to be given the order “Whites to the right, n******s to the left,” by a white army sergeant. And in our more enlightened times, certainly worthy of a Hollywood movie. “This was a reasonably expensive movie and usually black movies are low-budget.” So he had to spend £61million of his own money to tell the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, who earned their squadron’s nickname by painting their tails red to make each other out from enemy aircraft in bad weather.
But when Star Wars creator George Lucas tried to get backing to make a film about the Red Tails it was a tale America didn’t want to tell. “It was 23 years in the making and I financed it myself,” he says. The pressure was on me to get it done before they were all gone.” Red Tails, directed by Anthony Hemingway and starring Oscar-winner Cuba Gooding Jnr from Jerry Maguire, finally opened in America on Friday.
“I wanted to make an inspirational movie for teenage boys. Though partly filmed in the UK, it has yet to win a release date here or anywhere else outside the US.
Even though America has elected a black President, the studios still claim there isno market for a film with a mainly black cast.
His efforts paid off when black President Barack Obama got behind the project and arranged a special screening at the White House.