Red tails and black actors

Of the many stories percolating in NewsCutland this week, the one that never seemed to make much of a blip outside of Hollywood and a few others places was filmmaker George Lucas’ revelation that Hollywood was skittish about his Red Tails film project because (a) it’s a mostly black cast and (b) there’s not a foreign market for it.

“It’s one of the first-all black action pictures ever made,” Lucas told Jon Stewart this week.

Lucas might be playing it straight, or he might be a genius businessman, reminding the country that anyone interested in civil rights and equal acting opportunity, should drop what they’re doing and buy a ticket to his film, even if people don’t like action movies.

That puts people in a bad spot because the film might not be very good, and who’s deserving of movie charity?

The website Shadow and Act calls it a likely “castor oil movie.”


The simple fact, and I’ve said this several times before, is that NO ONE sees a film out of duty or obligation. People see a movie because they WANT to.

People went in droves to see The Devil Inside last weekend despite horrible word of mouth and terrible reviews because they wanted to.

When Tambay asked a few weeks ago what films people were most anxious to see in 2012, films like The Hunger Games, Django Unchanged, Prometheus and The Hobbit were named by all the commenters. I can’t really recall anyone saying Red Tails.

And from what I’ve always seen, even the most ardent “castor oil” supporters encouraging people to go out and see the films never even watch the films themselves. They always seem to find some sort of excuse.

Lucas hints that if the movie flops, black actors not named Cuba Gooding Jr., might never get another shot in Hollywood.

Writing on his Facebook page this week, Kemp Powers, a senior news producer at Yahoo!, takes the Lucas interview with Stewart apart, and finds plenty of evidence that it’s simply a bad film:


The most annoying part of the entire interview is when Lucas calls the film “one of the first all-black action films ever made.” Even Jon Stewart seemed genuinely surprised when he made this assertion. That’s probably because it was simply false, and it shows that Lucas doesn’t watch movies that have black casts. Did Ice-T and Wesley Snipes duking it out in “New Jack City” back in 1991 simply pass over his head? How about Reggie Rock Bythewood’s “Biker Boyz”? “Rosewood”? “Black Dynamite”?? Did Spike Lee’s “Miracle at St. Ana” (which I didn’t like) not count? Or the Ice-Cube/Sam Jackson actioner “xXx: State of the Union,” because it was a flop? And what about the increasing number of impressive films being made outside of the Hollywood studio system starring all-black casts? Brazil’s “City of God.” Zaire’s “Viva Riva!” Was “I Am Legend” a black action film, since Will Smith was the only human being in three-quarters of the movie? I don’t know the answer to this question, because what really even constitutes a “black” film is open to debate. And while I’m sure many would love to just accept any extra admitted oppression a benevolent billionaire is willing to admit to, the reality is that black people inside and outside of Hollywood have been getting some things done. And as any person of any race in Hollywood can tell you, getting any little thing done in this town is a big deal. Times are still tough, but don’t dismiss those achievements as nonexistent.

I hope my ranting doesn’t come across as sour grapes. As I said at the start, I am going to see “Red Tails.” On opening night. It’s what I do for most black films not directed by Tyler Perry, regardless of the positive or negative buzz. I saw “Bamboozled” on opening night in a theater with no more than 12 people total, and was proud to do so. The makers of “Red Tails” have my support already. However, my support is not enough, and I can’t in good conscious champion to anyone who isn’t black what seems to be nothing more than a derivative, cut-rate, effects-driven action film. I hope with all of my heart that it surprises me and defies my every expectation. And if it is a great film, I hope the word of mouth will help the film generate some success. But that success will have to be despite the fact that everything about the trailer, marketing and promotion of the film points to another case of cinematic mediocrity being sold to an audience that feels guilted into rather than genuinely excited about seeing it. You don’t sell action films to a wide audience based on moral obligation. And if it really is important, we deserve better. I should be excited to visit the cinema on the 20th, not grudgingly shelling out my money with the same disdain as when I took my son to see “Garfield.” And I definitely shouldn’t be wondering how much fun the audience watching “Haywire” in the next theater is having.

Kemp, an African American, says “you don’t sell an action movie to a wide audience based on moral obligation.”

  • Jim Shapiro

    The best place to see this, of course, would be at a theater in the ‘hood, with the audience talking to the characters.

  • JStrander

    The Stewart interview points out something that the commentary you posted skips:

    Lucas has been making the film for 23 years. That puts the film’s start date at 1989.

  • Tyler

    Someone needs to take away Lucas’ movie-making rights. He got lucky with Star Wars (1st 3 movies), and then had people make sure the 1st 3 Indiana Jones movies were good. Since then, he’s done nothing but shlock (new Star Wars), crap (edited original Star Wars), and bleh (Indiana Jones & the Crystal Skull, whatever this ends up as, etc).

    And yet people still pay money for his steaming messes.

  • Bob Moffitt

    Are you interesting in seeing this movie, Bob?

  • Bob Collins

    Oh, sure. Just because the film snobs pick it apart doesn’t mean it won’t entertain me. I mean, geez Bob,…. airplanes!