‘Red Tails’ Leaves Out Women

Library of Congress

Henry Louis Gates Jr. argues that Red Tails, the new George Lucas film about the Tuskegee Airmen, leaves out the vital roles of three influential women who made the integration of the Air Force possible. Mary McLeod Bethune, a member of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “black cabinet,” saw the pilot program as a way to integrate the Army and used her influence to get the government to open pilot-training programs at historically black colleges and universities. While Willa Beatrice Brown, a famed pilot and the first black woman to receive a commission in the nation's Civil Air Patrol, used her high profile to help promote aviation and maintain African-American interest in the field. Finally, Eleanor Roosevelt visited the Tuskegee Institute, at Bethune’s urging, and even rode in a plane with black flight instructor Charles A. “Chief” Anderson. Upon her return to Washington, she helped persuade her husband to integrate the armed forces. But none of the three women are given any screen time in the film.