Trustee Charles F. Johnson Flies High with “Red Tails”

"Red Tails" Executive Producer and Art Center Trustee Charles Floyd Johnson.

One of Art Center’s newer Trustees, Charles Floyd Johnson has a long-standing and successful career as a producer in the entertainment industry. He first started becoming familiar with the College during August of last year, became a Trustee earlier this year, and is looking forward to assisting Art Center in a number of different capacities, from outreach to fundraising.

“I came out for a graduation and was so impressed with Art Center, its students, and its plans for the future, that I said this is the place for me,” said Johnson, who points to being particularly impressed by the College’s Strategic Plan. “It felt to me like a very forward-thinking agenda, in terms of both making the school more user-friendly for the students and also making Art Center more dominant. Art Center already has a wonderful reputation in so many of its areas, but the College is interested in becoming even stronger.”

Johnson is currently serving as executive producer of the CBS television drama NCIS, which celebrates its 200th episode on February 7. He is also one of the producers of Red Tails, the Lucasfilm feature about the Tuskegee Airmen, America’s first all African-American aerial unit who both helped bring down the Nazi war machine during World War II and challenged racial stereotypes back home. Defying the odds, the film starring an all African-American cast — including Terrence Howard, Cuba Gooding Jr., Nate Parker and David Oleyowo — debuted last weekend in second place by bringing in nearly $19 million at the box office.

“It’s a story that has resonance with a lot of people,” said Johnson of the film which he and fellow Red Tails producer George Lucas had been trying to get off the ground for 23 years. “These young men were not encouraged to fly for their country. They were not expected to succeed. But they triumphed over adversity. These were men who fought racism at home and fascism abroad. They did it successfully and they were heroes, not victims.”

Audiences have clearly embraced the movie, and Johnson says the African-American community has proven particularly supportive of the film. He also feels critics who have labeled the film a comic book fantasy version of the Tuskegee Airmen’s story have been a bit unfair. “The story’s been told in many ways. In 1995 HBO made The Tuskeegee Airmen, which told the story of the airmen in a more chronological fashion, from when they first entered the program to when they were deployed overseas. So Lucas felt that had already been done, and he wanted to make an old-fashioned WWII dogfight movie. But even though it’s an action-adventure film, the story comes out very clear through it all.”

He also points out that for people who would like additional context, Lucas created a companion documentary to the film called Double Victory, which mixes the Tuskegee Airmen’s own words via modern-day interviews with newsreel footage. The film was broadcast last month on The History Channel and will be rebroadcast later this month for Black History Month.

“It’s so surreal,” said Johnson when asked how it felt to have a film that’s been in development since 1988 to finally be completed. “When I went to see the first cut with Lucas last October, I thought is this really happening? And now it’s out in theatres and people are seeing it? It’s surreal, and in a good way.”

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