If there’s one person in Hip Hop who never bites their tongue for no one, that’d be rapper/producer/actor David Banner, who over time has been a strong advocate for numerous of civil rights issues in communities, and more importantly, spoken up against the shifty bubble-gum direction Hip Hop has undergone throughout the years (on his LP with 9th Wonder: Death of a Pop Star.) The Mississippi native can now add movie critic to his ever-growing resume, as he has taken on the daunting task of penning and dissecting the Tuskegee Airmen inspired film Red Tails for Black Enterprise‘s site, which over the past weekend came in second at the box office–racking up a solid $19.1 million dollars. In any event, when films about our African American culture are put onto the big screen, it always stands to ruffle some feathers–simply because of Hollywood politics and imprecise depictions. However, I myself have yet to make my way to a nearby theater to see this monumental flick, but since D. Banner lets his words and the ink do the talking, let’s thoroughly read what he thinks of the film down below (you can read the rest here or in its entirety under):
There’s much that can be said about and learned from the recently released George Lucas film, Red Tails. First and foremost, this is a movie that MUST be supported. Whether you show your support for the long overdue story of the Tuskegee Airmen, for the mostly Black cast, or for the tremendous efforts of Lucas himself in bringing this story to light, once again this is a movie that needs to be supported. There are however some critiques that can and should be made about the movie, but in the end, the success of Red Tails has far-reaching implications that will reverberate through and potentially alter the course of Black filmmaking.
Red Tails is the brainchild of Hollywood icon George Lucas, creator of both the Star Wars and Indiana Jones sagas. Set during World War II, the film is loosely based on the experiences of the Tuskegee Airmen, Black pilots in the segregated 332nd fighter group. It follows the experiences (both combat and life experiences) of a group of pilots stationed at a U.S. airfield in Italy in 1944. Bearing the burden of the blatant and institutionalized racism within the military at that time, the fighters of the 332nd were relegated to menial and inconsequential missions compared to their White counterparts. Eventually, the Tuskegee Airmen were granted the more prestigious and dangerous ground attacks, air cover and bomber escort missions. It was their impeccable record of escorting bombers that made them legendary among pilots in general.
While the plot of Red Tails was intense, dramatic, and lighthearted it was also at times cliché and predictable. Whether it was the death of one character or the escape from death of another, the foreshadowing of those events just seemed too blatant. Speaking of characters, I often felt that I wanted to know more about the back-story of the men on screen. While there were surface dynamics provided, a more in depth treatment of the characters, their back-stories and experiences with a racist military structure—outside of Col. Bullard’s (Terrence Howard) meetings with military brass—could have helped me identify more with the characters. I even found myself put-off by some of the basic artistic aspects of the film (i.e. unnecessary and awkward accents, or even the font of the credits at the beginning of the film). In truth, I felt that the story left me unfulfilled and wanting more.
With that said, my critique of the film must be put in the proper context. The gaps in the storyline and the lack of in-depth character development reflect the shear amount of material the director, writers and producers attempted to include in the film. Trying to cover the realities of war, incredible fight scenes, a love story, character nuances and the racial-political realities of the military in a two-hour movie is certainly challenging. The story of the Tuskegee Airmen themselves—their triumphs, their tragedies, their battles in combat and their battles at home—is too great a story to be condensed into a two-hour time frame. It is for this reason that Lucas himself is on record as saying that he plans to produce both a sequel (covering the experiences of the pilots after returning home) and a prequel (documenting their flight training at Tuskegee University) if Red Tails proves to be successful.
In the end, the movie itself, though simplistic and at times “corny,” was inspiring. The battle scenes were superb and the film certainly evoked emotion and identification with the airmen themselves. My criticisms aside, it is certainly a movie that MUST be seen, a movie that MUST be supported and a story that MUST be told.
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.