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'The Tuskegee Airmen'

Critic's Pick

February 11, 1996|Howard Rosenberg

This is a stirring 1995 account of the nation's first African American combat pilots, embattled pioneers who performed admirably in World War II while enduring as much racism from their fellow Americans as flak from their German enemies. This is at once social history and a buddy movie, one that makes the training and combat experiences of a few college-educated fighter pilots a metaphor for the careers of all black airmen during World War II. They were awarded more than 850 medals and lost none of the B-17s they were assigned to escort on bombing runs. At its center are composite characters Hannibal Lee (Laurence Fishburne, pictured), Billy Roberts (Cuba Gooding Jr.), Leroy Cappy (Malcolm-Jamal Warner) and Walter Peoples (Allen Payne), aspiring airmen who meet on a troop train carrying them to a segregated training base near Tuskegee, Ala. Although its combat sequences are done well, "Tuskegee," an HBO production, is mostly the sum of its strong performances, none better or more subtly seething than Andre Braugher's as famed West Pointer Lt. Col. Benjamin O. Davis, who headed the 332nd Fighter Group in Europe and went on to become a three-star general (HBO Wednesday at 4:30 p.m.).

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