Friday, September 22, 2006

What's That Black Guy Doing in a Film about World War I Aviators?

The film "Flyboys," which opens nationwide today, has already generated some online discussions about its African American character (named Eugene Skinner and played by Abdul Salis). The discussions will often begin with a remark about how lame, PC, or just plain inaccurate it is to include a black guy in a movie about American combat pilots in WWI. Others will join in with remarks about how the film takes too many historical liberties by including such a character.

Eventually someone will join the discussion to point out that there really was such a person: EUGENE BULLARD. Although Bullard is a national hero in France, he is still a relative unknown in his native United States. Perhaps "Flyboys" will help to change that.

Craig Lloyd, author of the definitive Bullard biography, says, "from what I've seen, they're trying to give Bullard his due in this movie. I think that's for the good." Abdul Salis, who plays the Bullard character in "Flyboys," read the biography while preparing for the part. The biography's film rights have been optioned; perhaps one day there will be a movie just about Bullard. In an interview with Salis, the actor muses on what it was like to play Bullard in "Flyboys," whether Bullard deserves his own film (yes), and whether he'd like to (re)play Bullard in it.


The New Georgia Encyclopedia's article on Eugene Bullard.

A tribute to Bullard on an Air Force site, with some great historical images.

Black Wings, from the National Air and Space Museum, places Bullard among other pioneering African American aviators.

Top left: Movie poster for "Flyboys."
Top right: Still from "Flyboys" showing the Eugene Bullard character played by Abdul Salis.
Bottom left: The real Eugene Bullard in his aviator uniform.
Bottom right: Book cover of Eugene Bullard: Black Expatriate in Jazz-Age Paris.