Morehouse College held its third Annual Morehouse College Human Rights Film Festival at the historic Plaza Theatre last month. With hundreds of submissions, 87 films from 29 different countries were chosen as final selections to be screened during the festival.
The weekend-long film festival used a hybrid in-person and virtual approach this year, and it succeeded in its mission to engage the college community with filmmakers, humanitarians and social justice organizations.
“Given our history producing leaders who’ve gone on to lead the struggle for human and civil rights in the world, what better place to sponsor this than Morehouse?” David A. Thomas, the 12th president of Morehouse College, asked Blavity. “We have the moral authority to do it.”
One of the spotlighted films at the Plaza Theatre was Red Horizon, written and directed by T.C. Johnstone. Johnstone is a multi-award-winning documentary film director and producer best known for her award-winning film Rising From Ashes, executive produced by Oscar-winning actor Forest Whitaker.
Red Horizon is a short documentary that tells the story of the six Black aviation students in Montgomery, Alabama, and their commitment to keeping the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen alive. But to accomplish their dreams of flying, they must learn how to navigate the racism and prejudice within the aviation industry.
Essence Adams, a senior at Spelman College and an annual Human Rights Festival attendee, felt that the documentary did an excellent job of blending the past with the present. As a descendant of Southern ancestors, Adams says, she’s intimately aware of the impact these soldiers have had — on the war efforts, of course, but especially for Black people throughout the country.
“It’s such an important story, and telling it through the next generation of Black pilots was an excellent idea. I teared up so many times,” Adams said. “We’re actually seeing the results of our history.”
Traditionally, Black airmen weren’t allowed to fly in the Air Corps due to racial prejudice. In March 1941, however, the United States Army Air Corps formed an all-Black squadron of pilots trained at the segregated Tuskegee Army Air Field. The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American military pilots to fight in the Second World War.
The film highlights the rampant segregation and racist taunts the aspiring Black pilots suffered from their white peers. In spite of discrimination, the “Red Tails” flew more than 15,000 sorties (air attacks) in Europe and North Africa during the war. Their triumphs led to the eventual desegregation of the military in July 1948.
After the screening, three of the six cast members took to the stage for a post-screening discussion with the audience. One of the documentary subjects, Emilia Tolbert, found herself reflecting on her time as an undergrad at Spelman. Tolbert discovered community in the midst of struggle — the same sort of community she feels with her piloting predecessors.
“I think that’s what connects us with the Tuskegee Airmen. They did their part in integrating the military air force, and they passed on that torch. But although things have changed, things haven’t changed that much,” Tolbert said. “That’s the part that really binds us, as the new generation of Tuskegee Airmen, to them.”
Red Horizon honors the plight of the Tuskegee Airmen, and the students’ realization that their dreams of flying would have never come to fruition without the bravery of the “Red Tails.” Equally as commendable as their reverence, though, is what they hope viewers take away from the film.
“My motivation, my driving force, is that I want to teach other Black kids from Tuskegee, Alabama, how to fly,” Tolbert said. “If I can live my life to inspire someone else to go after their dreams, then my mission has been served.”
Red Horizon will be available in November for general public viewing.