Cinema provides fodder for the quotation, "Reality can be beaten with enough imagination."
Through the constant viewing of films (and television) that depict unreal scenarios and individuals excelling in circumstances that have no real world empirical evidence, movies help create false impressions of how the world works.
Most people find it odd that we "celebrate" Black History during the month of February, and they rightly ask the correct question, "What other months are afforded the celebration of an entire races contributions to American History, or for that matter, World History?"
Most history books (take Howard Zinn's "People's History of the United States") are a record of the follies of one particular group - white people - and their complete lack of probity in dealing with non-white people (whether that be indigenous people or Black people).
Black History Month, however, is a convivial celebration of Black people and their exploits in the United States. In reality, it is a month where Disingenuous White Liberals feel contrite for the past and Crusading White Pedagogues get past their consternation with their ancestors by attempting to find 28 (or 29) days worth of contributions from Black people worthy of celebration.
Alas, this task has been quite difficult when you exclude sports figures and Civil Rights agitators. Thus the need for SBPDL and our intimate look at fictional Black History Month Heroes that should be celebrated during Black History Month, for they have done infinitely more work in creating positive images of Black people than any real-life Black person could hope to achieve.
In the past, we have discussed piloting and Black people at SBPDL and pointed out this relationship hasn't been a favorable one.
The United States Air Force is doing everything possible to make the air safe for Black pilots, but finding Black pilots capable of manning multi-million dollar equipment is a difficult task:
Thankfully, movies are far better equipped at imaging Black pilots in scripts than the US Air Force is at identifying real-life pilots blessed with African ancestry.
“Only 1.9 percent of Air Force pilots are black, according to AFPC. Of 14,130 Air Force pilots, 270 identified themselves as black; another 620 declined to report their race.
“We’ve been trying for 20 years to get more black pilots, but it’s a little lower than it was 20 years ago,” said Stewart, who is a pilot.”
Consider the role of United States Marine pilot Captain Steven Hiller from the 1996 Blockbuster "Independence Day". Played by Will Smith, Hiller is a FA/18 Hornet pilot of renowned skill, who skillfully brings down an alien aircraft in a dogfight that stretches from the ruins of Los Angeles to the Grand Canyon.
The film took in almost $400 million worldwide and catapulted Smith to super stardom. The problem with this picture? The complete lack of Black Fighter pilots in real-life makes the portrayal of Capt. Hiller in "Independence Day" nearly as fanciful and imaginative as aliens utilizing a technology compatible with Windows 95 and lacking virus protection.
The complete lack of Black pilots for airlines is shocking as well. Worse, some people in the Marines have the audacity to believe in the paucity of real-life Black women pilots!:
Capt. Vernice Armour, program liaison officer for the Manpower and Reserve Affairs Equal Opportunity Branch, was recognized at the Fly-Sister-Fly Bessie Coleman Foundation Empowerment Breakfast in Phoenix Aug. 2 for being the first African American female pilot in the Marine Corps and the first African American female combat pilot in Department of Defense history.Will Smith has made a career playing fictional Black History Month Heroes and his portrayal of Capt. Steven Hiller is a shining example of creating positive images of Black people in film where they don't exist in real-life.
“There are still many Marines I come in contact with that say they didn’t know there was a black female pilot in the Marine Corps,” Armour said. “Then I inform them I am not by myself, there have been three of us for almost seven years. Now, another is going through flight school. We need to get aviation out there more.”
But one film supplants ID4 as the best representation of the fictional Black History Month Hero. Flyboys. A film with a budget of $60 million made a paltry $13 million at the global box office, and yet had a Black pilot that was loosely based on a real-life Black figure who did fly during The Great War (WWI):
"And while many of its characters are only composites of real-life people, one of its most closely paralleled characters—Eugene Skinner (who was based on Eugene Bullard, the first black pilot in the Lafayette Escadrille)—is most often questioned by audiences."Flyboys is a film that few remember being in theaters and even fewer that saw it have been able to forget. The plot revolves around:
The film follows the enlistment, training and combat experiences of a group of young Americans who volunteer to become fighter pilots in the Lafayette Escadrille, the 124th air squadron formed by the French in 1916. The squadron consisted of 5 French officers and 38 American volunteers who wanted to fly and fight in World War I during the main years of the conflict, 1914-1917, before the United States later joined the war against the Central Powers.Yet, unlike Capt. Steven Hiller, there exists a historical figure that this Black aviator is based upon, Eugene Bullard:
A group of young Americans go to France, for different personal reasons, to fight in the French Air Service, L'Aéronautique militaire, during World War I prior to America's entrance into the war. One of the main characters, Blaine Rawlings (James Franco) faced with the foreclosure of his family ranch in Texas, decides to enlist after seeing a newsreel of aerial combat in France. Dilettante Briggs Lowry (Tyler Labine) joins because of his overbearing father. African-American boxer Eugene Skinner (Abdul Salis), who had been accepted as an athlete in France, was motivated to "pay back" his adopted country."
Eugene Bullard (9 October 1894 – 12 October 1961) was the first African-American military pilot and the only black pilot in World War I...Comparing the films - Independence Day and Flyboys - is reminiscent of comparing the Burj Dubai to the Home Insurance Building. Little evidence supports the creation of Will Smith's Black fighter pilot in Independence Day and yet, the Black character in Flyboys is treated like the true the mythical figure, despite being based on a real-life Black aviator.
On a trip to Paris he decided to stay and joined the French Foreign Legion upon the outbreak of World War I in 1914. Wounded in the 1916 battles around Verdun, and awarded the Croix de Guerre, Bullard flew as a member of the Lafayette Flying Corps in the French Aéronautique Militaire, assigned to 93 Spad Squadron on 17 August 1917 where he flew some twenty missions and is thought to have shot down two enemy aircraft.
With the entry of the United States into the war the US Army Air Service convened a medical board in August 1917 for the purpose of recruiting Americans serving in the Lafayette Flying Corps. Although he passed the medical examination, Bullard was not accepted into American service because blacks were barred from flying in U.S. service at that time. Bullard was discharged from the French Air Force after fighting with another officer while off-duty and was transferred back to the French infantry in January 1918, where he served until the Armistice.
Yet, Will Smith is the huge star, despite Black pilots being a statistical anomaly in the Marines, Navy and Air Force of the United States.
Stuff Black People Don't Like discouragingly welcomes Eugene Skinner to the fictional Black History Month Hall of Fame, for though the character is based upon a real-life Black aviator, the Will Smith character based merely on imagination garnered all the accolades.
Remember, "Reality can be beaten with enough imagination."