David Banner Reviews Red Tails Impact On Black Cinema
Black Enterprise magazine Fall 2019 issue

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David Banner

The Development of the Movie

Much has been said (and should be said) about the role of George Lucas in making this film, but be very clear, this is a Black movie. In the promoting and reporting on Red Tails, the major theme has been the mostly Black cast, and the lack of a White actor in a major capacity in this film. This alone should be applauded, but what gets lost in the discussion is the fact that the director, the co-writers (including Boondocks creator Aaron McGruder) and the music director (New Orleans’ own Terrence Blanchard) are also Black. Furthermore, while developing the idea for the movie in the late ’80s, Thomas Carter, Lucas’ first choice for director, is Black and it was reported that Samuel L. Jackson was at one time in discussions to direct and star in the film. The point is that at every turn in the development and production of Red Tails, George Lucas sought Black talent to tell an authentic and dignified Black story. For that he should be applauded.

The Impact of the Movie

The box office reports are in for opening weekend and it’s official, Red Tails can be declared a box office success, coming in second place over the weekend with over $19 million in ticket sales. The box office receipts point to several realities:

First, and arguably most important, these numbers show that a big budget, dignified movie with a mostly Black cast can make money. The inability of this type of movie to draw dollars was the primary reason given to Lucas as to why no major studio in Hollywood would back the movie.

Secondly, the success of a movie like Red Tails shows that a wide variety of images of the Black community can be embraced on film. Historically, depictions of our community have consistently reinforced servant, buffoon, criminal and deviant themes. Red Tails shows that a heroic, distinguished and uplifting representation of our community is marketable.

Lastly, the efforts of Lucas himself are particularly instructive. Nearly a quarter century of rejection by every major studio in Hollywood was not enough to deter Lucas from his goal of providing “real heroes” for American teenagers–presumably Black teenagers. In addition to his telling a quality Black story, Lucas also seemed determined to put Blacks in positions critical to creating and telling the story (director, writer, composer, etc.) His dedication to this story–and indirectly to the redefining of Black images–was confirmed when it became clear that if he wanted this story told, he would have to fund it himself. In the face of such an obstacle, Lucas literally “put his money where his mouth is,” by funding the project with money out of his own pocket (to the tune of $96 million) to not only get the movie made but distributed as well. This act alone speaks to his sincerity and determination in bringing this type of story to the big screen.

With Red Tails Lucas has also taught a lesson to the Black filmmaking community. This lesson is, the selfless and dogmatic commitment to redefining Black images and telling quality, uplifting Black stories, is a blueprint that every Black filmmaker should study and emulate.

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