Monday, February 13, 2012

The Making of a WWII Fighter Pilot Film

A few weeks ago the film "Red Tails" was released in theaters amidst quite a bit of controversy and drama. Much of the hullabaloo had to do with how the film was made or more accurately how difficult it was to get it made. George Lucas, of Star Wars fame, had been working on this film for a little over twenty years. In the last few months leading up to the release of "Red Tails" some interesting facts about the making of the film and the process to get it made came to light, like George was turned down by every single hollywood studio to make this film. Then when he decided to finance it himself, to the tune of $58 million, he was turned down by every single film distributor in the business. He had to make a deal with 20th Century Fox to pay for part of the distribution for them to help distribute the movie.

I know exactly why hollywood would not support Mr. Lucas in making this film but was still baffled at the decision. The reason given for not backing Lucas on "Red Tails" was that they didn't know how to market it. I find this a completely unacceptable excuse. How hard is it to market a WWII fighter pilot action movie? That's easy. I could do that and I'm not in the movie or advertising business! So, what was the real reason. Well, it just so happened that the fighter pilots the story is about happened to be Black men. In particular the famous Tuskegee Airman, the first Black fighter pilots in the U.S. military. Their story is known the world over, and has been told in film form before but never on the scale that Mr. Lucas wanted to tell it. The color of the main characters is the only factor the decision was based on, not business or possible demographics for marketing. There are scores of war films out there, particularly about WWII, and the only obvious difference between all of them and "Red Tails" is the color of the main characters.

It's sad really that in 2012, with so many proven bankable Black actors and an African American U.S. president in office, that hollywood is still so obviously racist. I know hollywood is a huge movie making business machine and that business is mostly what drives decisions there, but in this instance it is obvious money/business wasn't the motivation for basically blacklisting George Lucas in making this film. And to add insult to injury, once the film had a successful opening it seems hollywood ran a campaign to have all of the "professional critics" slam the film. I cannot prove this of course but that's how it seems to me because they all had the same exact negative criticisms, ie.: "The dialogue was simplisitic," "The fight sequences were too cluttered with effects," "The story was too simple," etc.

Personally I think the movie was great. I saw it opening weekend and couldn't wait to see it again. Here is a quote from an excellent NY Times article about George and his journey in making "Red Tails":

Last October, Lucas slipped incognito into the first “Red Tails” test screening in Atlanta. He and McCallum huddled together nervously among throngs of teenage boys. When the lights went down, Lucas muttered, “Let the games begin. . . .”

Lucas got one report from the early “Red Tails” test screenings that struck him. Three or four white kids had been spotted yelling, “I’m Easy!” “No, I’m Easy. You’re Lightning!” They’d become “Red Tails” heroes: Easy and Lightning, Malcolm and Martin. “The ultimate line was to have a bunch of 10-year-old white boys say, ‘I want to be like those guys,’ ” Lucas says. “Which is what you get with sports. Which is what you get with music. I wanted to do it just with being an American citizen. Again, that’s corny.”

Lucas was ecstatic. He had minted a new collection of heroes. “It plays,” he excitedly told his friends. “It plays.”

This wasn't a Black film, it was an american war film that happened to have a true historical storyline that dealt with Black pilots in the military. The pilots being Black does not negate or overshadow the fact that at the core this is a WWII fighter pilot action film. I think George did a great job and accomplished something very grand for all americans. I thank him a great deal for this film. If you haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend it. Here's the trailer:

Now don't you want to go see that?!

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