If ‘Red Tails’ Crashes Does Black Cinema Crash With It?

Will the fate of Black films crash and burn if "Red Tails" fails to take off?

It’s early, but already we have a strong contender for this year’s Great Black Hope.  It’s Red Tails, the George Lucas produced action flick about the Tuskegee Airmen starring Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Terrence Howard leading a predominantly Black cast into battle against the Nazis.  This version, directed by Anthony Hemingway and featuring a screenplay written by John Ridley (Three Kings) and Aaron McGruder (The Boondocks) is getting a boost from the president who is hosting a screening at the White House.

Lucas, a longtime power player in Hollywood found few takers for the project he’s tried to get made for 23 years.  Lucas told Jon Stewart, “I figured I could get the prints and ads paid for by the studios, and they would release it, and I showed it to all of them, and they said, “No.”

“It’s because it’s an all-black movie; there’s not major white roles in it at all. It’s one of the first all-black action pictures ever made,” Lucas said.

Everyone can decide for themselves whether or not to support Red Tails.  It opens the same week as the next Underworld installment and the new Steven Soderberg “tough chick” flick, Haywire so it’s likely Red Tails will lose the opening week war to Kate Beckinsdale flipping around in skin tight black leather unless Black folks turn out in HUGE numbers.

If they don’t it’s not likely Hollywood will care if it’s another 23 years before there’s a major action film with a primarily Black cast and crew heading it up.  In a USA Today interview, George Lucas, who has tried to get the film about the Tuskegee Airmen made said, “I realize that by accident I’ve now put the black film community at risk (with Red Tails, whose $58 million budget far exceeds typical all-black productions). I’m saying, if this doesn’t work, there’s a good chance you’ll stay where you are for quite a while. It’ll be harder for you guys to break out of that (lower-budget) mold. But if I can break through with this movie, then hopefully there will be someone else out there saying let’s make a prequel and sequel, and soon you have more Tyler Perrys out there.”

George Lucas and his lady-love, Melody Hobson

More Tyler Perrys isn’t a good thing if all they do is make more movies like Tyler Perry, but Lucas has his heart in the right place.

Lucas may be overstating the case that the fate of Black film hinges upon the success or failure of Red Tails, but he’s probably not wrong that if his name wasn’t attached to it, this film would never have been made in the first place.  If the guiding light of the Star Wars franchise can’t get the movies he wants to make greenlighted, who can?  Tyler Perry won’t because he only makes them cheap and aims for even cheaper laughs.  Spike Lee could, but if the emphasis in Red Tails is on dogfights in the air more than the racial politics on the ground, that’s not playing to Lee’s strengths either.

Red Tails features Black actors, a Black director and two Black screenwriters.  If Black folks don’t support this flick WHO WILL? One gripe with the film from some movie critics who have seen it is there is too much computer generated imaging in Red Tails.  This is just silly. Complaining a movie in 2012 has too many CGI effects is like complaining about the high cost of a box of popcorn.   You see CGI up the ying-yang in everything from TV commercials to feature films.  That complaint really holds no validity to me.

I don’t know whether this movie is any good or not.  I hope it is as I plan to see it on opening weekend, which is the most important weekend in a movie’s lifespan.  Not out of any sense of “obligation.”  I don’t feel any obligation to see a Perry movie and have no reluctance in letting the marketplace decide the fate of his movies.  I

I’m interested in the story and figure it might be worth the price of a ticket, but I’m confident even the movie is rotten it won’t take down every Black movie with it.  It should be judged as one single film and not carry the burden of 36 million African-Americans expectations with it.  Didn’t we learn that lesson four years ago?

The other day my wife and I had the entire theater to ourselves to see Tom Cruise outrun a sandstorm in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, but we didn’t go out of any misplaced sense of racial loyalty to Paula Patton.   We just wanted to see a movie.

I do know is Black people have no excuse to complain about our stories not being told when we won’t come out to see a Red Tails.   If a piece of garbage like The Devil Inside can make over $30 million in its opening week and everyone knows it’s garbage, then how can we not give Red Tails a chance to see if it’s deserving of our support?

Hollywood responds best to movies that make money. When movies featuring Black stories with Black stars begin making some we’ll get something more than another hot Medea mess.