DALLAS -- When 5,700 fifth-grade boys in Dallas' public schools recently went to see a movie about black fighter pilots in World War II, the girls stayed in school and saw a different movie instead.
One of the pilots is among those asking why.
A spokesman for the Dallas Independent School District said officials took only boys to see "Red Tails" Thursday because space at the movie theater was limited. Jon Dahlander told The Dallas Morning News that leaders of the district also thought boys would enjoy the movie more than girls.
"Red Tails" tells the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, the legendary pilots during World War II who become the first black aviators to serve in the U.S. military. The movie opened last month.
Some female students were shown a different movie instead: "Akeelah and the Bee," about an 11-year-old girl who competes in a national spelling bee.
Dahlander, who did not return several phone messages from The Associated Press, told the newspaper that the district often holds gender-specific events.
"It's not out of the ordinary," Dahlander said.
But an original Tuskegee Airman and others questioned why everyone didn't get to see the same movie. Herbert Carter, who flew 77 missions in World War II with only one crash landing, said he was "almost speechless."
"I've heard everything else," said Carter, 94, in a phone interview. "This is the first time I've heard that it was unfit for female students."
Carter's wife of nearly 70 years, Mildred, who died in October, became the first black woman in Alabama to hold a private pilot's license, their son Kurt Carter said.
But while Herbert Carter trained at Alabama's Tuskegee Institute and went on to serve, Mildred Carter was barred by the military from flying, Kurt Carter said. She would go on to fly privately for decades after the war, he said.
"My wife would turn flip flops," Herbert Carter said. "She thought that all human beings were equal, regardless of sex, race, creed or color. She would take great offense to young women being denied this (opportunity)."
The Tuskegee Airmen were not allowed to fight alongside their white counterparts. They earned respect for their success in escorting bombers during the war and distinguished themselves by painting the tails of their planes red.
The airmen were given the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007 by President George W. Bush and were invited to attend President Barack Obama's 2009 inauguration. Obama screened "Red Tails" at the White House in January.
The field trip to see "Red Tails" cost Dallas schools about $57,000, which came from federal funds for low-income students, the newspaper reported.
Lisa Maatz, public policy director for the American Association of University Women, which advocates for gender equity in education, said news of the field trip showed "stereotypes are alive and well."
"Part of what we did here was show the girls they weren't as valuable," she said. "That's not a lesson that we want to teach our children."
Ana Rios, 11, a fifth-grader at Nathan Adams Elementary School in Dallas, said she wanted to see "Red Tails" – especially since she had already seen, "Akeelah and the Bee." She planned to watch the movie on her own.
"We are learning African-American history, and it would be a great movie to see," she said.
Lucasfilm, the company founded by "Star Wars" creator George Lucas, produced the movie. In a statement, Lucasfilm said it did not know about the Dallas screening and declined to comment, "other than to say that we want all students – boys and girls – to enjoy `Red Tails.'"