Academy-Award winning actor Cuba Gooding Jr. has had a passion for the Tuskegee Airmen since first hearing their story almost twenty years ago.
The actor was in his 20s and had just received a script for an HBO movie, The Tuskegee Airmen, about a group of heroic black fighter pilots who fought in World War II.
He was shocked.
“I got emotional reading the script, but I also got pissed off,” Gooding said. “Here I am finished my education and I didn’t even know that they existed. … That was the start of my education. We didn’t have a black history curriculum in school and I feel it’s an injustice.”
When Gooding heard a few years ago that George Lucas was working on another film about the airmen and their fights on and off the battlefield – Red Tails – he asked to be involved, no matter what the role.
“As Americans, we all need to shine the light on these people who helped this great country we’re in,” Gooding said.
Gooding and producer Rick McCallum visited UMass Boston Friday, January 27, to promote Red Tails, which opened No. 2 at the box office on the weekend of January 20. The two men screened trailers of the movie and its accompanying documentary Double Victory, which Gooding narrated, and led a discussion about the importance of the Tuskegee Airmen’s story.
A dozen local members of the Tuskegee Airmen also turned out for the event, receiving a standing ovation from the 600 students, faculty, staff, and community members in attendance.
“It means so much to me and to all of us that you were able to be here today to share in the legacy of your service and accomplishments,” Chancellor J. Keith Motley said.
This year marks the 70th anniversary since the Tuskegee Airmen first started their training.
“We owe so much to their bravery, their dignity, and their willingness over many decades to share their stories with us,” Chancellor Motley said. “Theirs are stories that need to be told—stories that we need to hear.”
Gooding, who plays Major Emanuelle Stance in Red Tails, called the early enthusiastic response to the film a triumph, since it was a battle to get it financed and released. George Lucas ended up covering the cost of production and distribution with his own money when no studio would.
“No one had any faith in the film,” McCallum said. “The industry was stunned and shocked — they didn’t believe anyone would go see it. It’s not racism, it’s ‘greenism’. Hollywood doesn’t believe that people will go see a movie about African Americans."
Gooding and McCallum have traveled to more than 30 colleges and universities across the country screening Red Tails in an effort to spread the word about the Tuskegee Airmen. Their documentary, Double Victory, will be shown on the History Channel and played in schools as part of the Black History Month curriculum.
“It’s an American story, no matter what color you are,” Gooding said.
Gooding said he enjoys meeting the airmen at events.
“There’s always an airman at our screenings and it’s a blessing,” he said. “[These men] make you proud not only to be an African American, but an American.”
Learn more about the Tuskegee Airmen.