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Red Tails – A Big Black Hollywood Movie!

Red Tails – A Big Black Hollywood Movie!

Red Tails is the George Lucas feature film about the first black U.S. trained pilots, Tuskegee Airmen, who flew fighter planes over Europe during World War II.

Red Tails Movie PosterIn a distant and dangerous past in the middle of a sky war being fought just below outer space, black pilots take the lead. Sound like fiction?

If any producer-storyteller could transport an audience into this unbelievable but true story on the big screen with amazing flare, that producer-storyteller would be George Lucas,  of the Star Wars Saga and Indiana Jones fame, and owner of Lucasfilm, one of the most successful film companies in the world, known for dazzling special effects and just plain good storytelling.

Films like Red Tails require budgets of large proportion to create the atmosphere and special effects simulating the subject matter–war! Bombs blowing up, planes crashing, eploding equipment, towns burning down, stunt pilots and a star-studded cast are the ingredients of this film and those ingredients cost big bucks.

However, all-black movies have difficulty finding funding in Hollywood. Red Tails defied black Hollywood tradition and got the big-budget funding needed for a modern, action adventure film, showing that Hollywood sees potential box office rewards that could make possible more big-budget movies in the future with black themes, casts and personnel.

George Lucas’ Red Tails, starring Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding, Jr., and directed by black  director, Anthony Hemingway, is intended to capture a 70-year-old major event in American history that is shrouded in Jim Crow laws, making the movie a period piece, requiring the re-invention of an old environment, similar to the expense of the invention of a new environment. In either case, there are special effects and construction costs that must be factored into the budget by studios. Lucas said he took this great story and film idea to studio heads and potential investors and they all said, “No,” admitting they did not know how to market the movie because it was black.

George Lucas & Cast“They don’t believe there’s any foreign market for it (Red Tails) and that’s 60 percent of their profit,” Lucas said to USA Today.

(From left to right) – Cuba Gooding Jr., George Lucas, Nate Parker and Terrence Howard from film, Red Tails, at the Chicago Film Critics Awards in Chicago. Photo for the Tribune by Shauna Bittle / January 7, 2012

Lucas said to Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, “If Red Tails does good box office numbers during its opening week, it’ll probably be easier to get funding for movies with all black casts in the future.” Lucas has the Hollywood clout to make movies that tell stories he wants to tell, and because of his reputation, he was able to raise  millions to make an expensive film, such a film, as Red Tails. Although it took Lucas nearly a quarter of a century to bring Red Tails to the big screen, no doubt, a considerable amount of that time was spent raising the funds.

Traditionally, period pieces have not been easy to sell in Hollywood due to their expense, regardless of the ethnicity of the cast and personnel. It takes great belief in a story and persistence to persuade investors in his or her favor. Some will put some of their own money on the table to seed their production and get things started.

Ernie Loewy, retired Director of the Story Department at CBS Entertainment, said, “Movie and television executives alike have been uninterested in historical productions unless they can be convinced a period peice will satisfy their bottom line. Executives in large offices are the establishment in the industry. It is difficult to change their perception.”

Ernie Loewy

While at CBS, Ernir Loewy, lectured at the American Film Institute and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) to filmmaking and television production students. In addition to reading hundreds of agented, solicited and unsolicited scripts at CBS, Loewy also sold more 75 scripts for independent production and international broadcast. Loewy is the coauthor of three memoirs, which had been collected by the Seal Beach, California, History Museum and the Huntington Library.

Ernie Loewy studied at the University of San Francisco. 

Experts agree that having a great story and a producer who believes in the project help get a movie made. However, in addition to having an incredible story that one believes in totally, one is aided by pitching an idea that can:

  • Draw superstar leads
  • Attract film investors or television sponors
  • Fit into a format or genre formula
  • Attract a mainstream audience
  • Get worldwide distribution
  • Exhibit box office appeal

Much has been written about the bravery of the black pilots who fought a war, while also fighting Jim Crow laws and racist treatment before, during and after their World War II service. Personnel, both male and female, on the ground were actively involved in guaranteeing the success of this military venture, disparaged by military officials of the day. The success of the Tuskegee Airmen experiment later assisted President Harry Truman in his decision to integrate the U.S. armed forces and military support services.

Maycie Herrington, 1941

Material for period black films like Red Tails comes from real people, many of whom are still alive, although a large number of Tuskegee Airmen have died. Ninety-three-year-old Maycie Herrington was there and still keeps records of her time at the Tuskegee Airmen Training Center.

Maycie Herrington (left, 1918- ), the wife of a Tuskegee Airman, Aaron Herrington, was the clerk who worked at the Tuskegee Airmen Training Center with the Red Tails and the rest of the Tuskegee Airmen. Maycie’s proessional and personal connection to the group, having been married to a member, gave her insight and access to Tuskegee Airmen history.

Many military officials did not want the program to succeed, Herrington said. “The program’s success would mean black pilots were smart enough and brave enough to fly airplanes under the pressure of war.” This notion would disprove the Jim Crow stereotype of African Americans and disturb a system based on the racial inferiority of black people.

Tuskegee Airmen - E-BookTuskegee Airmen were the first black pilots to fly U.S. military airplanes, known as the Red Tails, a name acquired when the pilots painted the aircraft tails red to distinguish them from other war planes. These pilots faced Jim Crow in the skies over Europe during WWII. One such digital title on the subject is Red Tails: The Tuskegee Airmen and Operation Halyard: An All-New Update for The Forgotten 500 by Gregory A. Freeman (July 5, 2011). 

Many young people—black and white–who subscribe to the post-racism-America  philosophy, more and more are getting their history lessons and news from the Internet and other media and forms of entertainment, while traditional reading and observation of historical scholarship are receding to the background of American culture. Some younger Americans, black and white, have a move on, get over it attitude that precludes their interest in the history of Jim Crow laws in the United States.

The 70-year-old story of Red Tails is news to many young Americans, both black and white. Although no one wants to dwell on the unenlightened period in Jim Crow American history, what happened, happened. Through films like Red Tails, history can be remembered without being repeated. By knowing what happened way back then, as some youngsters say, one can discover knowledge, allowing appreciation and understanding of others’ positions. Without knowing the truth about the past, none of us can be truly free in the future.

For more insights, literature, media and links to related articles read: Tuskegee Airmen–Red Tails–Fought Jim Crow in Skies Over Europe.

© 2012 Sunny Nash. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

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