The website for TV network Reelz reports that George Lucas spent over 2 decades trying to bring the World War II adventure Red Tails to the big screen.
The movie tells the story of the African American pilots of the Tuskegee Airmen training program, who fought for their country over the skies of Europe. And still, over the course of 23 years, Lucas could not find a single one of the Hollywood studios that would be interested in the project. Did the studio gatekeepers deem the material not “marketable” enough? Lucas certainly seems to think the studios saw the African American cast as a liability.
Ultimately, the Wizard of Skywalker Ranch had to put his money where his mouth is, which – of course – he has done before. But even after making the movie with his own cash, he still encountered studio rejection as he sought a studio partner that would help him bring the film to audiences:
I financed the movie myself and went to the studios to distribute it and nobody wanted it…They just didn’t feel there was enough of an audience out there for it… I said “Okay, put in more money and let’s do it ourselves.”
Hopefully the big studios don’t think that depicting African American men fighting against European fascism in World War II simply makes for something incomprehensible.
Red Tails opens January 20. It stars Cuba Gooding Jr. and Terrence Howard; and was directed by Anthony Hemingway.
UPDATE: This post seems to have aroused some controversy. Some clarification is required: I don’t think Lucas was alluding to racism at the studios. And I’m not either. Seems to me Lucas sincerely believes the studios think investing in a big budget movie with an African American cast is not worth it, because such a movie would be harder for them to market and sell effectively.
The international appeal of a movie like this may actually be very small (which Lucas spells out in his interview with Jon Stewart, linked above). And it’s a fact most studio product today makes most of its money overseas. There are no major stars in it, after all, which makes the marketing and selling that much harder – in any territory.
And when I use the term “not ‘marketable’ enough” – the way I do above – racism certainly has nothing to do with it, either. You need to click the link to find out what I actually mean. It leads to my blog, where I in turn link to an excellent essay I found on GQ almost a year ago. The essay is – in part – about a studio marketing department prejudice that is adversely affecting the quality of studio movies: the belief that you cannot make money on a film unless it’s based on some product or character that is pre-sold (which has led to so many remakes, sequels, and adaptations being released.)
Maybe the movie is just plain awful (a tad too Lucasy, perhaps? He didn’t write it, which is to the project’s overall advantage); and that’s why Lucas was turned down. But when was the last time a studio didn’t greenlight an awful movie? And for those who believe studios passed because the story had already been told in an earlier movie, that’s usually not an issue – not at all – nor indicative of a bad movie, necessarily, either. But that still doesn’t make me think ‘racism’. It makes me think that Hollywood hates war movies, unless the antagonists are American.
Controversy aside, if you’d like to help the National WWII Museum in New Orleans finish its Red Tail project, you can donate here.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Related thoughts on Lucas, race, and culture from Ed Driscoll.