NASHVILLE, Tennessee (AP) — Herbert Carter flew 77 missions during World War II and crash-landed only once, numbers that challenged those skeptical of the abilities of black aviators. Decades later, he and the other legendary African-American airmen he flew with must once again prove themselves — at the box office.
“Star Wars” creator George Lucas has been blunt about his 23-year struggle to make the film “Red Tails,” a movie chronicling the heroism of the first black aviators in the U.S. military. The film, starring Cuba Gooding Jr. and Terence Howard, opens Friday in 2,500 theaters nationwide.
Lucas said executives at every major studio rejected the film because they didn’t think mainstream viewers would pay to see an all-black cast.
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama screened the film at the White House last week.
The 94-year-old Carter sees the hesitation by studios as history repeating itself: “It … doesn’t surprise me.”
The Tuskegee Airmen were prohibited from fighting alongside white counterparts and faced severe prejudice, yet went on to become one of World War II’s most respected fighter squadrons, successfully escorting countless bombers during the war.
Once back home, many became affluent businessmen and community leaders, despite the continued racism they faced.
Lucas had several of the surviving airmen join him for a screening of the movie in New York last week.
Nate Parker, who plays the role of a flight leader in “Red Tails,” said he and the other actors were motivated by the leadership and bravery of the airmen, who distinguished themselves by painting the tails of their planes red, and formed a circle of prayer before many missions.
“They all strove for excellence,” said Parker.
Promoters of “Red Tails” are playing up the aerial thrills and heroism that should appeal to all viewers, regardless of race.
Carter and other surviving airmen, some of whom were advisers during the making of the movie, say they’re appreciative to Lucas for spending nearly $100 million of his own money to make and market the film.
The Tuskegee Airmen were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for their service in 2007 by President George W. Bush, and were invited to attend Obama’s inauguration in 2009.
“These are the type of films I try to do,” Parker said. “Things that … you can take into our community and effect change in a way that the airmen did.”
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.