Red Tails (the movie) and Racism

The famous moviemaker, George Lucas, has reported he could not get mainstream Hollywood studios to provide funding for his new movie, just out this weekend, called Red Tails. It deals with the famous African American fighter pilots in World War II, who went up against not only the Axis powers but also white racism throughout the U.S. military.

On The Daily Show, Lucas said the reason the movie could not get outside funding (he funded it himself) was contemporary white racism:

“This has been held up for release . . . since it was shot, I’ve been trying to get released ever since . . . . It’s because it’s an all-black movie. 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.”

A major New York Times story on the movie starts this way:

This was a new feeling for George Lucas. He made a movie about a plucky band of freedom fighters who battle an evil empire — a movie loaded with special effects like no one had seen before. Then he showed it to executives from all the Hollywood studios. And every one of them said, “Nope.” One studio’s executives didn’t even show up for the screening. “Isn’t this their job?”

Significantly, the rest of this article seems much more interested in Lucas, his older movies and lifestyle, and does not give us much more information on the funding racism, or indeed on the Tuskegee airmen themselves.

The movie features African American actors Cuba Gooding, Jr., and Terrence Howard, and is directed by African American director, Anthony Hemingway, something very rare for these blockbuster movies. Significantly, the movie is extremely rare in not having a central white figure who is key or saves the day, called the “white savior” phenomenon by scholars like Hernan Vera and Andrew Gordon.

One news report at HuffingtonPost also noted that Lucas was afraid that if the movie did not do well, then it would affect other movies centered on black issues with numerous central black actors:

I realize that by accident I’ve now put the black film community at risk [ … $58 million budget far exceeds typical all-black productions]. . . . I’m saying, if this doesn’t work, there’s a good chance you’ll stay where you are . . . . It’ll be harder for you guys to break out of that [lower-budget] mold.

Over at a new Tuskegee Airmen website, funded in part by a Lucas organization, we have this summary of who the “Tuskegee Airmen” were. They were

all who were involved in the so-called “Tuskegee Experience,” the Army Air Corps program to train African Americans to fly and maintain combat aircraft. The Tuskegee Airmen included pilots, navigators, bombardiers, maintenance and support staff, instructors, and all the personnel who kept the planes in the air.

And the website is set up for

Honoring the accomplishments and perpetuating the history of African-Americans who participated in air crew, ground crew and operations support training in the Army Air Corps during WWII.

It is getting mostly poor mainstream reviews, as one can see from its 33 percent rating of the mostly white movie critics at rottentomatoes:

Despite a worthy fact-based story and obvious good intentions, Red Tails suffers from one-dimensional characters, corny dialogue, and heaps of clichés.

Apparently (I have not seen it yet) it also suffers from not digging enough into the structural racism that kept virtually all African Americans in the service then (and for many years after) in subordinated jobs in the military. Few got even the opportunities of the Red Tails. (For another take on this, see here.)

Yet also on the rottentomatoes website, the movie gets an 81 percent rating from the viewing public so far–One of the most dramatic critic-viewers differences ever seen at that reviewing website. If you go to see the movie, let us know your reaction to it, and especially how it deals with white racism in the military and World War II era.