Detroiter's Tuskegee Airmen doc flies again Friday

Feb 21, 2012 at 5:20 pm

Nearly 30 years before George Lucas produced the story of the Tuskegee Airmen as the feature film Red Tails, award-winning Detroit filmmaker Ted Talbert told the story of World War II’s African-American aerial fighters in a homegrown documentary.

Talbert, who landed a spot in the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame for docs like this one, originally brought An Eagle Should Fly, his nonfiction version of the story, to local television in 1985.

As in the fictionalilzed Hollywood version, he examined the adversities black airmen faced on the ground with their own society as well as their battles with the Luftwaffe in the air. It was the era when African-Americans talked about the prospect of “the double-V”: a victory over fascism abroad and segregation at home.

The film includes footage of the late Detroit Mayor Coleman Young, who served as a Tuskegee navigator and bombardier, as well as an in-uniform activist challenging racism in the military. Former astronaut and U.S. Sen. John Glenn is among the many others interviewed.

The film is back in circulation this Friday, Feb. 24, digitally remastered in high definition, for a scholarship fund-raiser for the Detroit Chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists. The screening at the DoubleTree Hotel in Detroit is part of a 30-30-30 campaign to raise $30,000 through 30 events during the chapter’s 30th anniversary year.

In an e-mail today, Talbert explained how it feels seeing the story of the airmen told, now, by Hollywood.

"I do have feelings of vindication and adulation whenever anyone gives those great guys a positive play," Talbert said.

As for the movie Red Tails,  he continued: "I wish Lucas would have done a docudrama as opposed to a  Hollywood melodrama ... a lot of good historical information could have been worked into the script."

Then he added: " The movie  was most interesting and worth the price of a ticket."

Which counts as praise from one filmmaker to another.

Tickets for the screening — which begins with light fare at 5:30 p.m. and concludes with a post-film panel discussion — are $25 per person. For tickets and more information, call 313-300-2807.