WASHINGTON — Star Wars creator George Lucas may have had a tough time getting Hollywood interested in a movie about the Tuskegee Airmen, but he has the attention of President Barack Obama.
The president and first lady Michelle Obama planned to screen Lucas’ film, “Red Tails,” Friday at the White House, ahead of the movie’s Jan. 20 release in theaters.
Lucas, a few cast members and some original Tuskegee Airmen were expected to be among the Obamas’ guests, said Trent Dudley, president of the Washington, D.C., Tuskegee Airmen chapter.
Dudley, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, called the White House screening “a tremendous recognition of all the contributions the airmen made not only in World War II but the fight against racism.”
The Tuskegee Airmen were the first black aviators in the United States military. They were trained in Alabama at Tuskegee Institute, now Tuskegee University, during World War II as a segregated unit. After being admitted to the Army Air Corps, they were prohibited from fighting alongside white counterparts and faced severe prejudice but went on to become one of World War II’s most respected fighter squadrons.
They set themselves apart from other military aviators by painting the tails of their planes red.
The airmen were honored with the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007.
Lucas has spoken freely about his 23-year struggle to make the film, which has an all-black cast, and get studios to market it.
“I figured I could get the prints and ads paid for by the studios, and they would release it, and I showed it to all of them, and they said, “No,” Lucas told Jon Stewart in an appearance on The Daily Show earlier this week.
“It’s because it’s an all-black movie; there’s not major white roles in it at all. It’s one of the first all-black action pictures ever made,” Lucas said.
Lionel Spearman, a 1988 graduate of Tuskegee University, said he’s driving an hour to Greenville, S.C. for a showing of the film this weekend and is trying to organize friends to meet him there.
He said the screening of the film by the president sends a message. But he said it won’t be as effective in Hollywood as having millions of people turn out to see the movie “and they look at the numbers and say, ‘Wow, we were wrong.’ “