The 332nd Fighter Squadron of the US Air Force fought on two fronts in the second world war. With tremendous courage and skill they fought the German Air Force, and with even greater resilience they fought American institutional racism.
For these were African American airmen, trained at the segregated Army Air Field at Tuskegee, Alabama. Between 1942 and 1946, 994 pilots graduated at TAAF, receiving commissions and pilot wings. Of the pilots who were trained at TAAF, 450 of them served overseas in either the 99th Pursuit Squadron (later the 99th Fighter Squadron) or the 332nd Fighter Group. Black navigators, bombardiers and gunnery crews were trained elsewhere in the US.
The Tuskegee Airmen deserves to be in the top rank of war movies. Action scenes in the air, dogfights between the US planes and the German attackers are terrific, and the narrative of how to build up of a disciplined, technically rigorous air force is engrossing. But it is the power of the brutality, racism and degradation endured at home that is the casus belli of the film.
The movie opens with the journeys made by smart young guys from all over the US to Tuskegee to become airmen and to defend their country. It ends with a brilliantly upbeat conclusion but in between the young men suffer appallingly without a shot fired in anger by the supposed enemy. Fishburne and Gooding, with the rest of a fine cast, do that business of bringing the general to life through characters that we come to like and admire. The suffering endured by African Americans in their own homeland has been explored in film a thousand times. It's never enough — but this film does it brilliantly through the inspirational true story of Tuskegee.