Red Tails, an under-told story about the successful and impactful contributions of African Americans in predominately Caucasian institutions, is slated for release Jan. 20 in movie theaters across the country. And hopefully, more producers with the capital to finance major movies will recognize the value of including minority content on the silver screen.
What is Red Tails all about?
Red Tails – which renowned Star Wars director executive produced – details the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, who fought on behalf of the U.S. during World War II.
According to the Tuskegee Airmen Historical Web site, in 1941, the segregated U.S. Army Air Corps developed a training program in Tuskegee, Alabama, called the “Tuskegee Experiment.” The purpose of the program was to teach African Americans how to fly and maintain combat aircraft. The squadron known as the Tuskegee Airmen included pilots, navigators, bombardiers, maintenance and support staff, instructors, and all the personnel who kept the planes in the air.
The film’s title refers to the bomber crews known as the “Red Tail Angels,” who had red tail markings on the planes they flew. During the war, “the Airmen completed 15,500 missions, destroyed over 260 enemy aircraft, sank one enemy destroyer, and demolished numerous enemy installations…, [and they] never lost a bomber to enemy fighters,” as reported on the Tuskegee site.
Sounds interesting, right?
What took so long to get it into movie theaters?
According to Lucas in a recent interview with USA Today, one reason for the delay was that it took almost 23 years for Lucas and his script writers to condense all the material they had into a two-hour movie. Later, he decided that he would portray the middle part of the story in Red Tails, and then have others make a prequel and a sequel.
The second reason for the two-decade delay was due to an all too familiar perception about the success of films starring a predominately African American cast. In another interview, Lucas shared with the Tom Joyner Morning Show that it was difficult getting studio distributors on board to release the film (even after showing them the action-packed, full-length film) because they claimed that they did not know how to market Red Tails since it included an all-African American cast. Studio distributors also told him that African American movies typically have not produced enough revenue to pay back the financing for the film’s production budget.
Lucas also mentioned that for his films Indiana Jones and Star Wars, or even when he had an idea about a dog flying a spacecraft – without a preview of the movie – he was able to walk into a room of distributors and sell a film without a problem.
Does Hollywood not realize how profitable minority content can be?
One would think that with the “mainstream” success of movies like The Help (grossed $169,556,178), Ray (grossed $75,305,995), Dreamgirls (grossed $103,063,211), or the array of films by African American Director Tyler Perry (grossed a combined $503,859,637), movie distributors would invest their money in more minority-focused content. But as demonstrated in Lucas’s predicament with releasing Red Tails, it is still difficult to do so in Hollywood. Additionally, Lucas feels that the release of Red Tails will impact the African American community in some way depending on how it does at the box office.
“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 told USA Today. “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.”
How can moviegoers prove Hollywood wrong?
Overall, if moviegoers want to see more minority content portrayed in movie theaters nationwide, as opposed to them becoming made-for-TV movies or straight-to-DVD films, in the words of Lucas, “we’re going to prove to Hollywood that black is green.”
In other words, during the weekend of Red Tails’ release, moviegoers will have to show Hollywood by filling seats at their local movie theaters that films that have a predominately minority cast are more than capable of being box office hits, and they are able to attract scores of both “mainstream” and nonmainstream moviegoers.
Tiffany K. Bain is a 2011 public relations graduate of Florida A&M University. She currently serves as the Minority Media & Telecommunications Council’s Research Associate. She got her start in the industry in 2007 as an Emma L. Bowen Foundation intern at the nation’s leading cable provider.