Later, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt arrives for an inspection. Hannibal is chosen specifically by her to take her up. The men are eventually deployed to North Africa, as part of the 99th Pursuit Squadron, though they are relegated to ground attack missions. During the campaign, Hannibal's flight encounters a group of Messerschmitt Bf 109s. Ignoring Hannibal's orders, Leroy Cappy breaks formation and attacks, downing one of them. Another Bf 109 hits Cappy's fighter aircraft numerous times, causing a fire in the cockpit and fatally wounding him. Hannibal shoots the enemy aircraft down, but Cappy crashes.
A court is convened in order to determine if the Tuskegee Airmen "experiment" should be allowed to continue. The Airmen are charged with being incompetent, and a medical study is used to claim that "Negroes are incapable of handling complex machinery". The court decides in the Airmen's favor and the 99th Pursuit Squadron joins two new squadrons out of Tuskegee to form the all-black 332nd Fighter Group.
The 332nd is deployed to Ramitelli, Italy to provide escort for B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bombers, which are experiencing heavy losses. During this deployment, Hannibal and Billy sink a destroyer. Billy is shot down, while Hannibal is promoted to captain and awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. In their next mission, the Tuskegee Airmen are assigned to escort the bombers on a raid on Berlin. As time goes on, the group's reputation grows to the point that a bomber pilot specifically asks for them as escorts, even though he knows the pilots are black. He trusts the black pilots more than the white pilot escorts.
At the end, the film details the unit's accomplishments: 66 out of the 450 Tuskegee Airmen died in battle, they engaged and defeated Me 262s, the first operational jet fighters, and they were awarded a total of 850 medals over the course of the war.
|Laurence Fishburne||Hannibal "Iowa" Lee Jr.|
|Allen Payne||Walter Peoples|
|Malcolm-Jamal Warner||Leroy Cappy|
|Courtney B. Vance (as Courtney Vance)||Lt. Glenn|
|Andre Braugher||Benjamin O. Davis|
|Christopher McDonald (as Chris McDonald)||Maj. Joy|
|Daniel Hugh Kelly||Col. Rogers|
|John Lithgow||Sen. Conyers|
|Cuba Gooding Jr.||Billy "A-Train" Roberts|
|Mekhi Phifer||Lewis Johns|
|Christopher Bevins||Young Hannibal|
|Eddie Braun||Tail gunner|
|Max Daniels||Left waist gunner|
|Jack Dwyer||Operations officer|
|James Field (as James T. Fields)||Conductor|
|Vivica A. Fox (as Vivica Fox)||Charlene|
A full cast and production crew list is too lengthy to include, see: IMDb profile.
Originally intended as an Home Box Office made-for-TV project, (HBO) invested more into the production, a reputed $8.5 million (the largest investment in a telefilm project to date) striving for historical accuracy. Although most of the lead characters were fictitious composites of real pilots, the inclusion of Eleanor Roosevelt and General Benjamin "B.O." Davis was based on actual events. When First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited Tuskegee Army Air Field in 1941, she insisted on flying with Charles Alfred Anderson, the first African American to earn his pilot's license and the first flight instructor of the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP) organized at the Tuskegee Institute. She had the photograph of her in a training aircraft with a black pilot at the controls widely circulated. Additionally, Andre Braugher's portrayal of "B.O." Davis and his role as the commanding officer pointedly was an accurate depiction of the unit's first commander.
Location shooting took place at Fort Chaffee, right outside of Fort Smith, Arkansas. The barracks had been used in the filming of Biloxi Blues (1988), another wartime story. The principal photography also utilized locations at Juliette, Georgia, Muskogee, Oklahoma as well as studio work in Los Angeles, California. A collection of period aircraft including T-6 Texans and P-51 Mustangs were representative of the many types flown by the Tuskegee Airmen. A small number of authentic P-51 fighter aircraft in appropriate "red tail" colors was employed in the aerial sequences. A limited number of period gun-ciné films were also used.
Although shortcomings were noted by critics generally focusing on clichéd dialogue and slow, stagey scenes, however, the overall impression by the public was nearly universally favorable. An excellent ensemble cast that was balanced by the use of realistic aerial footage were often cited as significant. The main theme of racial discrimination was also an emotional touchstone for many audience members. The Tuskegee Airmen rather than being "preachy" depicted the real-life struggles of the black airmen and is considered a resource in many educational programs based on the Black American experience.
At the 1996 Image Awards, The Tuskegee Airmen won as Outstanding Television Movie or Mini-Series while Fishburne won as Outstanding Actor in a Television Movie, Mini-Series. Cuba Gooding Jr. along with Braugher were further nominated as supporting actors.
Fishburne was also nominated for the 1996 Golden Globe in the Best Television Actor - Miniseries or Movie category.
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