The Tuskegee Airmen (1995)

Rated PG-13

Starring: Laurence Fishburne, Allen Payne, Courtney B. Vance and Andre Braugher

Rated: PG-13 Drama, History, War

Based upon history, The Tuskegee Airmen opens with Hannibal “Iowa” Lee (Laurence Fishburne) on a train, traveling to Tuskegee, Alabama.  Set during World War II, Lee is en route to flight training school at Moton Field.  He, along with other African-American men, including Walter Peoples III (Allen Payne), Lewis Johns (Mekhi Phifer) and Billy “Train” Roberts (Cuba Gooding, Jr.), are taking part in what is known as “The Tuskegee Experience”, which is to train Blacks to become pilots in the U.S. Army Air Corps.

Upon their arrival, they are met by two White officers, Colonel Noel Rogers (Daniel Hugh Kelly) and Major Sherman Joy (Christopher McDonald), and a Black officer, Second Lieutenant Glenn (Courtney B. Vance).  Rogers, who commands the base, is optimistic about African-Americans being trained to become aviators.  Joy, who supervises the training, is racist and uses every opportunity to dismantle any accomplishment of the African-American cadets, including having them re-take assessments because he believed they cheated.  Joy was incensed to learn that none of the cadets earned less than 95% on the re-test that he administered.

As the hazing by many White military personnel continues, the Black cadets have to also contend with their own aspirations, missing loved ones, fears of failing and, even worse, possible death in training and in combat, when called to serve.  Will these men be able to overcome racial discrimination and accomplish their dreams to become the first African-American pilots?  If so, history will surely be made by the Tuskegee Airmen!

The story behind The Tuskegee Airmen was written by and based upon the life of Captain Robert W. Williams of Ottumwa, Iowa.  Williams was a wartime pilot in the U.S. Army Air Corps’ “332nd Fighter Group”, a combat unit that was trained at Moton Field in Tuskegee.  The story was eventually produced, with Williams as co-executive producer, and presented on cable television in 1995 by HBO Pictures.  The Tuskegee Airmen was later released as a limited feature in selected theaters.  Because the film did so well, video and DVD versions were created and made available for purchase by HBO in 2001.

With the exception of Benjamin O. Davis (Andre Braugher) and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt (Rosemary Murphy), none of the characters featured in the films are real; the characters are composites.    Some criticisms of the movie were its slow-moving, at times, plot and dialogue that had been overused in war films. However, The Tuskegee Airmen has been well-received.  A majority of the praise that the film earned is due to the use of realistic aerial footage; its authentic portrayal of the racial discrimination that the officers suffered; and the stellar acting of the cast.

The overall praise led to the film and several of its actors, notably, Laurence Fishburne, Andre Braugher and Cuba Gooding, Jr. being nominated and winning awards.  The Tuskegee Airmen won the 1996 Peabody Award and the 1996 NAACP Image Awards for “Outstanding Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special”.  It also won three Emmy Awards for “Outstanding Sound Editing for a Miniseries or a Special”;  “Outstanding Editing for a Miniseries or a Special – Single Camera Production” and “Outstanding Casting for a Miniseries or a Special”.  

Laurence Fishburne won the 1996 NAACP Image Award for “Outstanding Actor in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special”.  Andre Braugher and Cuba Gooding, Jr. were nominated for “Supporting Actor in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special”.  For their roles in The Tuskegee Airmen, Fishburne was also nominated for an Emmy Award for “Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Special” and Andre Braugher was nominated for “Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Special”.  Fishburne was also nominated for the 1996 Golden Globe Award for “Best Television Actor – Miniseries or Movie category”.