‘Red Tails’ Is Real American History

‘Red Tails’ Is Real American History

As a young, educated, and professional Black woman, I stand on the shoulders of giants. I was able to graduate from the United States Naval Academy and serve as an officer in the United States Marine Corps thanks to heroes like the Tuskegee Airmen who paved the way before me. That’s why I’m thankful that the next generation will be able to experience glimpses of their story in this weekend’s opening of the movie, Red Tails.

Red Tails is inspired by the true story of the Tuskegee Airmen, who served as America’s first black aerial combat unit. This movie took nearly 23 years to complete and it’s a story that needs to be told. The reality of bringing this movie to the big screen is due in no small feat to the tenacity of producer George Lucas (Star Wars), who financed the project with $93 million of his own money.

Lucas started out consulting with 40 Tuskegee Airmen and that number has now dwindled to seven. Lucas was determined to get this project to the big screen before all of the Tuskegee Airmen died. Thanks to his work with director Anthony Hemingway, they have produced what has been labeled a World War II action movie with the most special effects of any film of this kind. The special effects in Red Tails are on par with films such as Lucas’ most recent Star Wars films and James Cameron’s Avatar, which means it doesn’t get much better.

LUCAS and LEGENDS: George Lucas (far left) stood with surviving members of the Tuskegee Airmen last fall as they were honored during a University of Southern California football game. Lucas consulted with 40 different Airmen during the making of "Red Tails." (Photo: Tony Leon/Newscom)

What do you have to look forward to? For the first time ever, this is not an action movie with one token person of color. Lucas and Hemingway have lined up an all-Black leading cast, including longtime fan favorites Terrence Howard (Col. A.J. Bullard) and Oscar-winner Cuba Gooding Jr. (Major Emanuelle Stance), with R&B singer Ne-Yo (Andrew ‘Smoky’ Salem) even taking a role. Rounding out the crew is Nate Parker (Marty ‘Easy’ Julian), whom you may remember from The Great Debaters; British actor David Oyelowo (Joe ‘Lightning’ Little); Michael B. Jordan (Maurice ‘Bumps” Wilson); and Elijah Kelley (Samuel ‘Joker’ George). Besides being talented actors, these men are also easy on the eyes, ladies.

Producing this movie was an uphill battle, as Lucas fought against the grain. Hollywood continued to reject the viability of selling a “black” action movie. But this is not just a Black movie that appeals to Black people; this is an American story about American patriots, military servants, and heroes who happen to be Black people.

Unfortunately, so many of the stories of Black history have been lost or rewritten over the years, allowing others to take credit for our work and contributions to this great country. We need to remind Hollywood, the media, politicians, and other leaders of what we have done. It’s not okay to narrow the focus of contributions of African Americas to a select few leaders who have changed the history of this country and made it what it is today. The foundation for much of America’s success as a nation was built on the backs of Black folk.

Now is an opportunity to celebrate our contributions. George Lucas’ vision for this project is to provide real heroes for young African American boys. I share his vision, and it is my hope that this movie rekindles conversations for our young boys and Black men about what they can be and do.

I hope this movie presents another opportunity to reinforce the importance of self-respect, goal setting, character building, persistence and hard work, and prioritizing education. This movie puts the names of real heroes on the lips of our children so that they go to the books and read the true stories. We have to stop the cycle of youth solely idolizing ball carriers and musical artists — some of which have spent more time in jail or tattoo parlors than they ever did in school, at home with their kids, or honoring the women in their lives. All athletes and artists aren’t bad, but we certainly need to expose our children to more engineers, doctors, entrepreneurs, and military servants (those who continuously give of themselves to make other people’s lives better).

Now is the time to show Hollywood that your money is green. Show Hollywood that great movies telling great stories that feature a predominately African American cast can explode at the box office during their opening weekends, and Tyler Perry does not have to produce them.

Red Tails opens tomorrow in theaters everywhere. Let’s get out to the theaters this weekend and show Hollywood that Black America wants more films like this! Take your friends, family, congregations, and kids. (Note: This movie has a PG-13 rating for some war violence.) See the movie once, twice, or three times, and then talk about it! Also be on the watch for Lucas’ two-hour documentary about the Tuskegee Airmen on The History Channel.

Let us know your thoughts on Hollywood’s claim that Black moviegoers will not support this type of film. Then let’s prove them wrong.

This article is adapted from an original post at UrbanCusp.com.

NYC Worship Protests Intensify

NYC Worship Protests Intensify

Council Members Join Protest

More than 150 protesters, led by New York City clergy, were joined by several members of the city council Wednesday at a press conference on the steps of the Tweed Courthouse in lower Manhattan. UrbanFaith talked to several protesters, including two pastors who were previously arrested for trespassing and disorderly conduct as they rallied against the impending eviction of houses of worship from the city’s public schools.

Threatening Community Partnerships

Rev. Rick Del Rio, pastor of Abounding Grace Ministries, said the threatened February 12 eviction of his church from PS/MS 34 on the lower east side of Manhattan is “very difficult” because his congregation mostly serves poor members of a neighborhood that is increasingly being gentrified.

SPEAKING OUT: Tianna Williams joined others to confront NYC's controversial law restricting houses of worship from meeting in schools. (Photo: Christine A. Scheller)

“We’re going to survive because this is God’s church. However, we’ve been in real partnership with the city. … We have been doing things that the city hasn’t had to do and we didn’t use any city money to do it,” said Del Rio.

Del Rio, a 30-year New York City ministry veteran, also serves as a volunteer clergy liaison for the New York City Police Department. The NYPD sometimes calls him to intervene in tense neighborhood situations, he said.

“One time there was a murder that took place and there was going to be a gang war there. They asked me to intervene and talk to these kids. I took the whole gang to my house where we lived on 6th street and we served them hot chocolate and sandwiches and were able to defuse the situation and there was no retaliation that took place,” said Del Rio.

Paying a Price for Solidarity

Rev. Michael Carrion, pastor of The Promised Land Covenant Church, has been arrested twice for protesting the policy, even though it doesn’t directly affect his congregation.

“It affects my Bronx. I’m in solidarity,” said Carrion, who is facing two court dates from his arrests. “It is a small price to pay for my community.”

Standing Up for the Marginalized

DEFIANT CLERGY: (From left) Rev. José Humphreys, Rev. Ruben Austria, Rev. Michael Carrion, and Rev. Efrain Alicea. (Photo: Christine A. Scheller)

Rev. José Humphreys, pastor of Metro Hope Church, was arrested at the previous rally as well. Like Carrion, his church doesn’t meet in a public school. He said he didn’t wake up that morning thinking he would be arrested, but was prepared for the possibility.

“It was something that we believed in, because … whenever the marginalized, the poor, the disavowed are affected by unjust policies, when policies no longer serve their constituents, I think it’s a mandate for the church to step in and represents these people,” said Humphreys.

Civil Rights Movement Inspiration

“As a student of the civil rights movement, I think it’s always a good thing when the people of faith stand up and speak truth to power. I hope this movement continues … with the church standing up for all sorts of things where the poor are being affected,” said Rev. Ruben Austria, executive director of Community Connections for Youth, an organization that works to provide alternatives to incarceration for young people caught up in the juvenile justice system.

Could This Policy Spread?

Both Carrion’s and Humphreys’ churches are affiliated with the Evangelical Covenant Church. Humphreys said the denomination is “keeping a close eye on what’s happening in New York” because many of its congregations meet in public schools across the country.

Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) senior counsel Jordan Lorence told members of the media that New York City’s policy has been in place for 30-40 years, but that a 2002 federal injunction against The Bronx Household of Faith put other houses of worship at risk. (In that case, Bronx Household of Faith was represented by ADF.)

“It’s not required for the school district to keep it. They can get rid of the policy,” he said. “The mayor can do that. The state legislature can do that.”

“Of the largest 50 school districts in the country in terms of student population, only New York City has a policy banning worship services on the weekends or weeknights in the public schools,” said Lorence.

UrbanFaith asked Lorence if the New York City policy has the potential to spread to other municipalities. He said that although legal precedent should prevent similar policies from being enacted in other municipalities, “this does have the potential to be a problem elsewhere.”

“These policies were more frequent and common 30 years ago. A series of lawsuits, some of them going to the Supreme Court, have struck all of these down, or they’ve just been repealed because school districts say, ‘It just doesn’t make any sense,” said Lorence.

He described New York City as “the last stronghold of this extreme view of separation of church and state, that the govenment has to basically drive out private religious speakers that are clearly not state sponsored, in order to show that they’re neutral towards religion.”

After the press conference, the protesters marched around the block to the city’s bi-weekly council meeting to urge members to overturn the school worship ban.

What do you think?

Is the New York City worship ban a violation of the civil rights of religious citizens?

Googling for Meaning, Part 2

Googling for Meaning, Part 2

In Part 1, we saw how the problem with GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum started with his characterization of homosexual relationships, and Dan Savage’s … savage response to that characterization. We can see that the meaning embedded in Santorum’s words is what created such a firestorm of controversy, and it’s easy to see how such embedded meaning can be an obstacle in connecting to an audience, especially when the embedded meaning connects to racism.

Meanings make definitions

We’ve got to understand that meanings make definitions, and cultural definitions are the context in which our audiences live. So what this means for Rick Santorum, and for Christians in general, is that we are already at a rhetorical disadvantage for a certain section of the populace when we identify ourselves as Christians, because for them, the word “Christian” has already been defined by overwhelming negativity.

So we must use our words and actions to be strategic about counteracting this cultural definition of Christianity with a new definition. If we prize our faith as highly as we say, then we need to be ready not only to take a stand for our faith, but to do so with sensitivity toward those who don’t believe.

Consider what the apostle Peter told believers:

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander (1 Peter 3:15b-16, NIV, italics mine).

Santorum’s biggest problem as it relates to the Dan Savages of the world is not just his policies, but meaning created with his words. He needs to be able to maintain his convictions in a way that isn’t quite as alienating to people in blue states (or failing that, he should avoid offending Black people in general). After all, Santorum is not simply running to get the Republican nomination. He is running to be President of the United States, and there are plenty of Americans who don’t share his faith.

What’s ironic is that, of all the significant faith groups in America, the one that seems to do this best is Mitt Romney’s Mormons. The LDS church has been known for decades as being media savvy, from the ’80s into the present day. And it makes sense that they are, because Mormon doctrine, although it uses a lot of the same language, is so fundamentally different from most aspects of mainstream Christianity that it’s widely considered to be a cult. They have to persuade people with emotional imagery in order to draw attention away from the fundamental beliefs that undergird their religious authority structure.

Wanted: Real Christians

This difference, along with the myriad of differences in terminology, doctrine and ideology between other legitimate sects of Christianity (Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox, evangelicals, Pentecostals, Baptists, etc.), means there are so many competing definitions of what a Christian really is, that no wonder the unchurched are so confused. It makes you want to ask, “Will the real Christian church please stand up?

None of this is Rick Santorum’s fault directly. But it means that he’s sure got his work cut out for him. And even if he pulls a Rocky and somehow wins the Republican nomination — no sure thing considering he still has front-running Mitt Romney to deal with — he’s still going to have to find a way to relate to the rest of America.

I believe Rick Santorum has an authentic Christian faith. And even though there are aspects of his political record I find distasteful, I respect him for taking a public stand. His opponents might paint him as a phony, but then again people said the same thing about Dr. King. And as tone deaf as Santorum has been culturally, his immigrant lineage still connects him to the plight of the poor and the working class.

Plus, being a Christian will always put you in someone’s crosshairs. When the apostle Peter talked about others being ashamed of their slander, it reminded me of Dan Savage also attacking another prominent Christan named Rick — Rick Warren of Saddleback Church, someone who is much more image-conscious and well-known for his social justice efforts, which is why he was invited to give the invocation at President Obama’s inauguration.

Which just goes to show that as a Christian, following your convictions means you can’t please everybody.

I just wish more Americans understood what being a Christian really means. That it’s not the same as just “being a good person,” and that it’s more than just moralistic therapeutic deism.

Unfortunately, you’re not gonna get that from Google.