By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J.
J. Douglas Johnston of RTQ Entertainment has acquired the rights to the story of the first African-American Naval Aviator and 3-Star Marine Corps General Frank Emmanuel Petersen, Jr. The intent is to turn General Petersen’s life story into a feature film.
General Petersen, who died in 2015, shattered barriers as he rose through the ranks. As a Black man, he constantly challenged the systemic and overt racism he faced throughout his career, fighting for racial equality in the United States military.
“It is crucial that this story is honestly told,” says Johnston, who was a friend of General Petersen. “Frank was an extraordinary man, who redefined what it meant to lead in the United States Military.”
General Petersen’s story begins with becoming the first Black Marine Aviator and his service during the Vietnam War. This was a time when the Civil Rights Movement was changing America, and these racial tensions extended into the military as well. Racism and discrimination permeated throughout his career, from the moment his wings were pinned on, to being assigned to a Department of Defense Commission, and even when he became the base Commander at the famed USMC Base Quantico.
General Petersen retired from the Marine Corps in 1988 after 38 years of service. According to Wikipedia: “At the time of his retirement, he was by date of aviator designation the senior ranking aviator in the U.S. Marine Corps and the United States Navy with respective titles of “Silver Hawk” and “Gray Eagle.”
The Crusader spoke with Johnston about the integrity of his project and what he knows about General Petersen’s uphill battle for recognition within the military.
“This is not another sensationalized ‘poor Black man story.’ Frank Petersen faced all the racial barriers of America, in and out of the military during his life, some of which were very despicable,” Johnston said. “However, he learned from and surpassed every barrier he faced. His subsequent decisions and leadership created a roadmap to racial equality, with advancement based on integrity and personal merit. He effected change while establishing minority officer recruitment programs and led the charge through the challenges of military service as the only Black officer in the room.”
He added: “This is the story of Frank Petersen’s success as a highly decorated Fighter Pilot, and as a Black Marine Corps officer who led the way, with the hopes of many others pinned to his success. He left a legacy for the future of all minorities in the Marine Corps, officers and enlisted men alike.”
With COVID-19’s effect on the entertainment industry, Johnston anticipates this film to be completed within three years. The script, originally written by Johnston and James L. Thompson, is currently being rewritten, and Johnston has partnered with Jesse DeCosta and Kevin Pennant to ensure that this timely and important story gets told.
Johnston is asking industry professionals—creative minds, such as a director and writers—to reach out if they would like to assist in this project and to bring this important story to fruition. “It is important that this history is told, and we give honor to a man who stood up and fought not only for his country, but also who broke through barriers to accomplish so much. Who knew his being ‘first’ was necessary and his success was as much for himself as it was for all minorities who face similar barriers and pin their hopes on following in his footsteps?”
For creatives who might want to be involved, as well as for more information about this project, email Johnston at email@example.com.
A short video about General Petersen can be viewed at this link. https://tinyurl.com/y3ffjwmu.