Who knew that 70 years after African-American pilots had to work hard to overcome the prejudices of whites in the U.S. armed services, and the nation having its first black commander-in-chief, the men known as the Tuskegee Airmen would still be doing battle with an entrenched institution of white power brokers, all based on the color of their skin.
Many of you may have seen the flashy commercials advertising “Red Tails,” the major motion picture that chronicles the amazing and true story of true American heroes: black pilots who went overseas in World War II to fight for the freedom and democracy that they could not enjoy at home.
The film opens January 20 in theaters nationwide, and for its producer, George Lucas, it has been a 23-year odyssey.
You would think that someone considered one of the most powerful players in Hollywood, a man who has made billions with blockbusters such as the “Indiana Jones” and “Star Wars” franchises, would have been able to get “Red Tails” approved without any hesitation. Yet many African-Americans have long known that in Tinseltown, the color of your skin—or that of the people in the story you want to tell—often falls victim to racial pigeonholing.
When Lucas approached the major Hollywood studios about backing “Red Tails,” he was told: Thanks, but no thanks.
“There’s no major white roles in it at all . . . I showed it to all of them and they said no, we don’t know how to market a movie like this,” Lucas told Jon Stewart on The Daily Show.
Let’s juxtapose that against some other facts:
—In 2008, 69 million people voted for Barack Hussein Obama as president of the United States;
—The most talked-about woman in America over the past 25 years was Oprah Winfrey, who redefined the talk show genre;
—Which athlete has the top-selling jersey in the NBA? LeBron James;
—Who is considered the top-grossing actor? Samuel L. Jackson;
—Arguably the greatest entertainer of all time is Michael Jackson;
—The greatest golfer in the world? Tiger Woods;
—The most dominating players in women’s tennis? Venus and Serena Williams;
—The top singer today? Beyonce;
—And hip-hop, an outgrowth of black culture, is a worldwide phenomenon. And 80% of the consumers of hip-hop music in America are white kids.
So whites all across America have come to accept African-Americans in a variety of public media, but Hollywood continues to want to tell us that somehow seeing blacks on the big screen is anathema to their values.
Maybe what no one in Hollywood wants to own up to is that in many ways, it is a close-minded society where it’s hard to find African-Americans in positions of true power.
Part of Hollywood’s problem is that when looking at a movie that has, like “Red Tails,” a mostly black cast, it is cast as a “black” film.
“Red Tails” isn’t a black movie. It’s a war movie. It’s an action movie. It’s a story of true American heroes overcoming great odds to succeed. That was the conclusion of Alabama head football coach, Nick Saban, who showed the film to his team the night before they demolished LSU for the BCS national title.
George Lucas has clearly expressed his fears with “Red Tails,” hoping it opens huge so it will send a message to Hollywood that a big-budget action film with lots of black folks can be successful. The downside? If it fails, it will be seen as a failure of ALL black action films.
If so, maybe the libs in Hollywood will finally realize that great stories, when sold as such, and not as a “black” film, can bring people of all stripes to the movie theater.
There used to be a time when whites could sit downstairs, and if blacks were allowed in the movie theater, had to sit upstairs. Today, it’s clear that such a racial divide is no longer in place in the seats, but now on the screen, and that’s a damn shame.