“Red Tails”: A closer look

Part 1: Red Tails market campaigns– “Sh*t White Execs said to George Lucas.”

In the social media world there has been a recent trend of viral videos that address social issues under the theme, “Sh*t ____ say to ______.” My favorite one being, “Sh*t White Girls Say…to Black Girls.” Marketers for the new movie Red Tails decided to rift off this trend, creating “Sh*t White Execs said to George Lucas.”  The video uses satire to draw attention to the ignorance white Hollywood producers displayed towards the production of Red Tails. Watching this makes me cringe. It’s truly ashamed how political and racialized the entertainment industry can be.

What upsets me the most about this marketing campaign is not necessarily the racial statements said, although I was offended, but the racial undertone of the campaign itself. The campaign guilt trips audiences into attending the film by angering them with the racist remarks made by Hollywood producers. In doing so the creators are operating off of the assumptions that blacks are easily angered and ill tempered. This idea is deeply rooted in the historical racist beliefs that blacks are aggressive unrefined individuals, who are easily provoked, and reactionary. This video also functions off of the assumption that minorities do not attend movies, unless propelled to do so, an assumption that is not fair. Perhaps they figured “it’s provocative—it gets the people going!” as Kanye West says in his song N*ggas in Paris.

Now whether sparked by guilt or just a personal interest to see the film, Red Tails proved to be a major success at the box offices this past weekend. The first all black action movie grossed an unexpected $19.1 million in its opening weekend.

On many occasions George Lucas spoke-out candidly about the difficulties he faced while producing Red Tails— a project that took him 23 years and 58 million dollars of his personal dollars to bring to fruition. Specifically in his interview on The Daily Show, Lucas pulls the race card when he discusses the resistance he received from Hollywood in the production of this movie. He uses racial inequality as the motivating factor to get the black community to support Red Tails, a tactic he overly and unwisely used. Now Historically Black Colleges/Universities are challenging Lucas to literally put his money where his mouth is, by demanding that he invest 15 percent of box office proceeds to HBCU’s that offer film studies programs. While for the record, I don’t necessarily agree with this challenge. I am interested to watch how Lucas responds, because if he were truly fighting against racial injustices in Hollywood, it would make sense for him to invest in diversifying Hollywood.

Don’t get me wrong; I applaud Lucas for his dedication to seeing this story come to life. However it is still sad to say that one of the black community’s leading directors and filmmakers, Spike Lee, can produce a film like Miracle at St. Anna and not be recognized for his work. Even though the acting and production value far exceeded that of Red Tails. The film told the story of paid homage to the all-black 92nd Division, which fought on the ground in Italy.

I question, why it took a white male backing this black picture to bring it life? I don’t have the answers to these questions, but I wonder what accounts for the disparity in funding for black films? Is it there isn’t an audience for these stories?

Oscar nominated actress, Viola Davis, brought up an interesting point in Newsweek’s Oscar roundtable this past week on the topic of being black in Hollywood. When asked “Do you think race still plays a part in your castability?” Davis replied, “There aren’t a lot of leading role s for African-American women. African-Americans make up about 12.5 percent of the population, and that is not the demographic we’re targeting in movie/television/entertainment industry.” In this response she raises important questions about the assumptions that filmmakers are operating under. They seem to be aiming at the lowest common denominator and forget about the smaller demographics, so what they produce is not representative of their true audience base.

Red Tails certainly opened up a fruitful discussion around race in the film and television industry. It also brought to light that we must critically examine and reconsider the assumptions we base our decisions off of.

Part 2: Personal response to the film

With all the buzz flying around the recent film Red Tails I had to see go see it. After watching the film, I would give the production a 4 out of 10.

Aaron McGuder, the creator of The Boondocks, who very little people know actually co-wrote Red Tails with George Lucas was quoted as saying in a brief interview at the NYC red carpet premier of the film, “We wanted to take it (the film) from being a heavy historical drama, to being more of an action adventure, comedic, but not necessarily a comedy…but a classic George Lucas movie.” For my money, Aaron McGuder is a brilliantly educated and politically savvy young man, but after seeing the film I take issue with his statement. Firstly, why are we attempting to take story that is not a classic George Lucas story, and turn it into a classic George Lucas film?

While I understand the emphasis on universality the creators wanted to stress, in all their zeal to make this film an All-American blockbuster, that was simply told by a predominately black cast, they neglected to address the historical relevancy of the Tuskegee Airmen. There wasn’t a single caption in the film. At least when I saw Frost/Nixon, a movie I love, there were plenty of historical captions that provided me with the context I needed to understand the gravity of the water-gate scandal.

Since there was very little monetary backing for the production of Red Tails, it is entirely possible that they didn’t have enough money to include captions. However, I am of the opinion that they could’ve given up the cost of one exploding plane or special effect, to give this story the historical footing it needed to be truly effective. Because despite being an American story, many students graduate from high school and even college not knowing who the Tuskegee Airmen were. Under these circumstances, we can’t pretend that a segment of history that has essentially been “blacked-out” of our history textbooks is common knowledge, and that audiences will enter into the theatre with a basic understanding of the historical context.

However in Lucas’s defense Red Tails was intended to be one part of a trilogy that tells the complete story of the Tuskegee airmen, but without proper funding that could not be done. With a successful run at the box office, I am curious to see if both the prequel and sequel will actually be made after this production.