In The News
Dear Mr. George Lucas, Black People Didn’t Need a Guilt Trip to Support “Red Tails.”
When Red Tails opened in movie theatres last week, you would have thought the two-decades-in-the-making film highlighting the difficult journey of the Tuskegee Airmen (the all-black World War II fighter pilot squad) was akin to the second coming of Martin Luther King. Why? Black folks were busy on Facebook and Twitter, sending emails urging folks to go support the film, organizing bus trips and damn near forcing folks to promise to be there on opening day. ..Or else. The peer pressure to see Red Tails opening weekend was so severe you felt like you would have been forced to hand in your “black card” if you dared not go see the film. Was it my racial duty to see Red Tails?
I confess, I lied on Facebook and said I went. I didn’t have a sitter for the weekend. But I did catch a matinee early this week. It was awesome!
But, what gives with the black folks’ hysteria?
Well, a white man, to be honest. Specifically, George Lucas. The Star Wars creator, backed the film, and talked publicly, as in on The Daily Show, about how seven major Hollywood studios rejected the project, before he decided to put his own money into the film.
Welcome to our world, Mr. Lucas. We’ve known for, like, ever, that Hollywood is not very interested in telling African American stories. Particularly positive ones. Now, if we are crack heads, poor, being saved by well-intentioned white people or playing other racial stereotypes, then the checks get written.
But then Mr. Lucas went one step further, and I think one step too far, to say that essentially the whole future of black films hinged on the success of this movie. In a follow up interview with USA Today, Lucas hinted that if Red Tails was a failure, it could have negative repercussions for black filmmakers: “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],” he said. “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.”
Geesh, not sure if I want more Tyler Perrys, but really Mr. Lucas? The future of black filmmaking lies in the balance with your film??
First of all, Black folks don’t like a guilt trip or fear-based marketing.
Secondly, African American filmmakers gave up on Hollywood a long time ago. That is why more films are being released independently and growing through word of mouth and critical acclaim. Like the movie, Pariah., currently winning awards and kicking-ass at Sundance.
And finally, it’s not black people who needed to go see the film. Yes, we like to see movies directed by one of our own, starring one of our own or telling a story about one of our own. Red Tails' $19.1 million opening-weekend receipts attest to this. But black people alone cannot be expected to change the minds of Hollywood executives who think that stories about black people or featuring black people or told by black people are niche and unprofitable. In order for Hollywood suits to believe that black stories, black actors and black filmmakers are important, there need to be more nonblack people buying tickets to see those movies.
Will you be one of them? Or will history once again show that stories told from the black perspective always have trouble finding dedicated audiences outside of the community. Point blank, the mainstream (i.e. white people) is less inclined to see films featuring black actors. Even though black folks see mainstream films all the time….
Maybe African Americans weren’t the audience that Lucas should have been guilt-tripping.