“Red Tails” Do or Die & Sundance 2012

23 Jan

By Open Book

It is amazing African Americans future in cinema falls on the shoulders of Red Tails succeeding at the box office this weekend. Is this an ultimatum by Hollywood or George Lucas? The films production budget was 58 million and grossed so far 19 million domestic. Granted after distribution and marketing cost George Lucas (who produced the film) is out 93 million for this film.

We’ve discussed on LIH the lack of color at the Oscars last year in an article Did African Americans go MIA in Hollywood? We suggested it was due to African Americans being calculating to try and compete in domestic as well as international waters.  The truth is, the film industry is volatile and competitive. With the Internet, moviegoers are more sophisticated than ever before. To find a story that resonates with everyone is difficult. With that said, Red Tails unfortunately, suffers from made for television campiness disease. Director Anthony Hemingway did his best to give this film dimension yet, the script was predictable and actors struggled with bad dialogue. Audiences today don’t need to be spoon-fed a plot. Although, George Lucas heart was in the right place, the truth is, African Americans need to produce authentic material to compete. So why is so much riding on this one film? Why an all, African American cast is on the verge of extinction? Sounds like a marketing ploy to get butts in the seats. African Americans want to see quality films that require critical thinking like everyone else.  To find a genre that will appeal to both African and White American audiences is hard is true. First, whites don’t want to be reminded of racism and blacks don’t want to be reminded of white supremacy.  So what’s a filmmaker to do?

Many African American filmmakers are showing up at the Sundance Film Festival this year to test the waters.

Spike Lee is showing his latest film entitled Red Hook Summer. In an article by Tambay called January 2012 Black Cinema Calendar Outlook, from Shadow & Act stated,

  • The 2012 Sundance Film Festival feature films that center on stories about people of African descent, like Spike Lee’s Red Hook Summer, Ava DuVernay’s Middle Of NowhereSheldon Candis’ LUV, Sam Pollard’s Slavery By Another Name, Terence Nance’s An Oversimplification Of Her Beauty, and Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts Of The Southern Wild.

Many of these films sound very interesting. The question is will these films ever get seen? Especially if Red Tails fails to make back it’s budget.

What do you think of Hollywood’s “Do or Die” scare tactic to get African Americans to support Red Tails? What about producing original material that challenges audience intellectually? Is it possible for African American filmmakers to produce subject matter that can appeal to domestic and international audiences?

Please join us for an open discussion from Monday 1/23/2012-Wednesday 1/25/2012.

31 Responses to ““Red Tails” Do or Die & Sundance 2012”

  1. comic relief January 23, 2012 at 9:58 AM #


    It’s amazing that the success of “Red Tails” could be associated with the continued support of African-American talent and African-American focused content in Hollywood. We know this because both George Lucas and Tyler Perry communicated this in many Hollywood news outlets last week. Unsurprisingly it also sounds like the ultimatim that Warner Bros. leveled at women some years ago. Wasn’t this information reported by you on this site last year; what was the name of that article? As though the participation and visibility of one ethnic group should entirely rest on the questionable dramatic narrative talents of George Lucas. As for Tyler Perry, maybe we’ll talk about him later.

    • comic relief January 23, 2012 at 10:49 AM #

      Yet I would like to take exception to one comment made in your otherwise excellent article.

      “To find a genre that will appeal to both African and White American audiences is hard is true.”

      I know this is not your thinking but the dominant ideology that of course insists on conformity and happens to be aggressively anti-creative. If African- American creative efforts always had to mimic or satisfy white audiences, the United States would have never developed innovative musical art forms like the blues, jazz, R&B, etc. Surely these art forms were supported by very different distribution systems than mass marketed feature film productions. Instead of trying to advance screenplays and film projects, this challenge actually represents the art form of business people. If we believe diversity is a cultural asset of this democracy, we need culturally sophisticated bean counters to mediate these differences in communication and propose ground breaking outlets for keeping these vital cultural groups vocal and visible.

    • Open Book January 24, 2012 at 11:59 AM #


      Tyler Perry is trying to find his voice in HW. I think Perry coming out to support George Lucas was nice. I just think this idea African Americans need to run out and support this film regardless if it’s good or bad is the reason we have a ton of “Medea” films. Come On! African Americans can and do like original complex films that make u think.

      Should African American filmmakers be forced to play it safe when their white contemporary’s aren’t?

      • Comic Relief January 24, 2012 at 5:47 PM #


        Again great article. You think after at least seven different movies Perry is still trying to find his voice? It may be a surprise you but I really don’t think you believe this.

        Other than making money, I think it’s more likely that he hasn’t made a commitment.

  2. littlebells January 23, 2012 at 10:30 AM #

    Excellent article OB!

    Wow, I really had high hopes for RT! Even Mr. Bells suggested we go see it and we plan to. Aside from dialogue, as you suggested, I would have thought the historical story line would have captured audiences attention.

    I agree it’s time audiences were spoon-fed. As I look at reviews on movies that have failed or just not succeeded as much as one would think, most complaints were about “predictability”. It gives me hope that audiences really do want to be intellectually challenged. I would like to think that twists, subplots and having to piece information together ourselves is what makes for a successful film.

    Anyway, I do plan on seeing the film and will come back with a review.


    ” Instead of trying to advance screenplays and film projects, this challenge actually represents the art form of business people. If we believe diversity is a cultural asset of this democracy, we need culturally sophisticated bean counters to mediate these differences in communication and propose ground breaking outlets for keeping these vital cultural groups vocal and visible”

    I completely agree! How do you think audiences can influence this?

    • comic relief January 23, 2012 at 11:06 AM #


      I’m glad you agree. A lot of different peoples and communities built and maintain this country. Like Hollywood, audiences need to embrace the notion that we have a multi-ethnic culture influenced by the thinking and doing of different communities.

      Hollywood needs to hire the right people. At least Spike Lee, John Singleton, and Lee Daniels have been close to or have received Oscar nominations for their film work in the past. IMHO, I don’t believe far under experienced Hemingway was not the director for this job.

    • littlebells January 23, 2012 at 11:19 AM #

      I just watched the trailer for Middle of Nowhere. I love that it is directed by a woman and it looks like a story line that all races can relate too. It doesn’t appear stereotypical.

      THe other films sound very good too.

      • comic relief January 23, 2012 at 11:31 AM #

        I like “Middle of Nowhere” also.

        • littlebells January 23, 2012 at 11:50 AM #

          Great trailer! However, I was thinking more of this Middle of Nowhere:

          HAHAHAHAHA!!! That’s what happens when there are too many films with the same title. 😉

          • Comic Relief January 23, 2012 at 8:39 PM #

            I’m embarassed 🙂 ; though I like the tone of that trailer for completely different reasons.

            • littlebells January 23, 2012 at 8:46 PM #

              Don’t be! It totally made me laugh and start my day off right! 🙂 I actually want to rent the other one because I love Susan. hahahaha!!!

            • Open Book January 24, 2012 at 11:49 AM #

              OOOPS!! It happens.

              I like both trailers actually.

    • Open Book January 24, 2012 at 11:47 AM #

      Hi LB & CR,

      Let me see if I can answer a few of your Q’s.

      I think audiences can do more to support non-mainstream films. I think the convenience of going to a local theater to see a blockbuster has it’s advantages. But venturing out to a few local film festivals can be just as entertaining. IMO!! I think culturally u see more diversity in Indie films than in mainstream. Yes, mainstream u get bigger spectacle and watered down plots that have wide appeal but u are sacrificing flavor that comes from seeing new material.

  3. Parisienne January 24, 2012 at 12:25 AM #

    Open book,

    I saw a promotion for red tails on Oprah. She interviewed Lucas and the last 5 minutes was given to the film. I would like to see it for the historical aspect.

    • Open Book January 24, 2012 at 12:12 PM #

      Hi Paris,

      Actually, this is a good film for teaching history students. I’m sure Oprah’s show was less predictable than the film. LOL!! Seriously, I think the films strength is in the flying sequence shots. They are quite amazing. Drama is not Lucas forte but I’m sure he will have another shot in HW. It’s the African Americans in the film who’s career is shot if African Americans don’t go out and support this film.

  4. Open Book January 24, 2012 at 12:23 PM #

    Hi Everyone-

    I’m glad u like the article and I do hope u get out and see Red Tails. If it’s only to form your own opinion and criticism of the film.

    I have a few Q’s-

    -Do u think African Americans should be forced to support mediocre films just to be allowed to play in HW?

    -Why are white male filmmakers given a ton of rope to make poor films that tank at the BO yet Minorities have to hit it out of the park every time?

    -Playing it safe does not allow filmmakers or artist to evolve. Do u think mainstream films have become more predictable and insulting to audiences intelligence? If so why is that?

    • littlebells January 24, 2012 at 7:01 PM #

      1) No

      2) Because of “the man”…totally my opinion.

      3) Yes, because HW refuses to allow creativity and originality. Not entirely, but a majority of the time.


      • ozzie20 January 24, 2012 at 7:48 PM #

        Hi All! Great Article OB!

        My answers are:
        1) No.
        2) Same answer as LB again! 🙂
        3) Yes because I think greed is at the heart of it. I think the mindset right now is “Why take the risk of spending money on something that that is more creative and may fail, when the tried and tested formula is pretty much guaranteed money maker.” Personally, I think creativity should always be at the forefront rather than money.

  5. littlebells January 24, 2012 at 7:12 PM #

    OB and everyone,

    As I was taking a mandatory nap, I had this thought/theory. I’m working on composing my thought/theory because it’s a lot of info and I don’t want it to sound offensive in anyway. But as a teaser, I wanted to ask, is it possible that audiences don’t take AA films as serious as others because of the demographics/stereotypes of their communities?

    • littlebells January 24, 2012 at 7:17 PM #

      sorry, I meant to say, “because of WHAT THEY SEE in their demographics/stereotypes of their communities?”

  6. littlebells January 25, 2012 at 2:22 PM #

    Last night, I went to the 7:00PM, $5 Tuesday night showing of Red Tails with Mr. Bells. The theater was 75% full. The audience was predominantly made up of adults, with approx. 50/50 Caucasian/African American.

    Now before the movie started, an older gentleman behind me in line said, “This is the film that the big wigs in Hollywood didn’t want to make it to theaters.” Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to speak with him further because we all started piling into the theater. But I really wanted too!!!!

    I thought Red Tails was fantastic! It was upbeat, uplifting, funny, dramatic, had great aerial fighting, and most of the actors did a great job. Poor Cuba Gooding Jr., though. He pretty much just smiled, winked, and smoked a pipe. The film dealt with the racial inequality and personal lives of the characters, but the main point was to show unity, strength courage and what amazing fighting skills the 332nd Squadron from Tuskegee had. I think it gave a great message to all young men and women.

    Was the script great? No.

    Will it win any awards? Probably not.

    Could it have been filmed more along the lines of Saving Private Ryan or other dramatic films? Yes, definitely, but that was not the purpose. I felt inspired and proud of our Tuskegee fighter pilots. However, when you have a theater laughing at the right moments, tearing up, and then applauding at the end of the film, I would say the writer, director, producer and cast got it right.

    Now my personal, personal opinion of the film: I honestly felt all demographics could enjoy this film. What I truly enjoyed was the fact that African Americans were not played to stereotype. These men were educated, had ethics and morals Now could we argue that these traits are a stereotype? Maybe, but at least they are positive instead of negative. I think this movie was empowering for the AA community and shows AA films can be highly regarded and taken seriously.

    As we walked out of the crowded theater, I found myself next to the same gentleman I had overheard at the beginning of the movie. I asked him if he enjoyed it and he said he thought it was great. He said HW should be ashamed of themselves and that they didn’t want the part about “God and country” in the film. (That part I’m not too sure of, but I can see that being a no-no) Mind you this man is white. Shows you how supportive whites can be of the AA community.

    I’m pleased George Lucas took this film on. He should be proud of himself. Honestly, anyone a part of this film should be proud. Our audience loved it and I think that says a lot about the kind of films we want to see. We are the ones who pay to see the films, so I believe our opinions greatly count. If you have any questions for me about the film or the people behind it, please ask away!

    * Mr. Bells thought it was excellent and was so put off by the politics and racism towards these men displayed by the “brass” (gov’t officials) *

    Here is a link that I thought you might enjoy reading:

    • Comic Relief January 25, 2012 at 3:21 PM #


      Thank you for your honesty. I have seen 1/5 of the movie because I had to leave but was initially shocked by all of the controversy about the film.

      1. I couldn’t believe Lucas’ choice of Director.

      2. I was shocked by the manipulative way Lucas and Perry sought to promote the film.

      3. I was shocked by the economy pack of other African American film trailers that was used to promote the film. I thought we had advanced beyond this segmented and segregated way of marketing a film?

      When I have seen the whole film, I’ll tell you my take. Again thanks.

      • littlebells January 25, 2012 at 3:33 PM #


        I actually have not investigated anything beyond the film. I am not aware of the film’s promotion or choice of director. I will have to go research.

        I realize my take may be completely in the minority, but that’s what’s so great about everyone here being respectful. 🙂

    • littlebells January 25, 2012 at 3:53 PM #

      I also want to add that the movie has a comic book feel. No we don’t get in depth characters or a great story, but I still found it enjoyable. I think this is our first all-black action movie and you know, I thought they did fine. I think AA can only get better.

      • Open Book January 25, 2012 at 4:08 PM #

        Great! Great review LB!!

        ITA with CR. I love your honesty and if I my add sensitivity to the audience around u when seeing the film. This is so great when getting out and seeing a film is to get a real honest response from audiences without it being laced with some agenda etc..

        With that said. I typically see films multiple times because I’m so critical. LOL!! I will often watch for technical first than story second. However, the purpose of this article was to say. Why should AA be given an ultimatum after one film? I think Lucas heart was in the right place for wanting to make a film that celebrated AA contribution etc…. Yet, my complaint was. Why should AA be given only one shot in HW when whites are given multiple films to experiment and learn from?

        • littlebells January 25, 2012 at 4:35 PM #

          I can only assume it’s because HW must still have some racism left in it and that just like the “brass” wanted to make AA look inept in the military, they quite possibly may be doing the same thing in film. It’s obviously not fair and a bunch of bull crap. It all comes down to “the man”. Turdballs. Obviously I do not know and don’t want viewers to misinterpret my opinion.

          I think your concern is legit OB.

          • Open Book January 26, 2012 at 4:54 PM #

            Thanks LB!

  7. littlebells January 26, 2012 at 7:58 PM #

    Hi! I realize we have another discussion going, but this popped in my head and I didn’t want to forget it:

    Howard and Gooding Jr. didn’t have large parts. Do you think their images on the poster were used to get people to come see the film? Is that a good or bad move?

    • Comic Relief January 30, 2012 at 3:51 PM #


      I don’t know what to think about th poster, maybe they had to do that to justify what they initially promised him. You we’re so right, of the two Red tail leaders, Mr. Gooding Jr. really did get the short end of the stick in regard to lines. And that might be sad if not for the good fortune of seeing he and Terrance Howard finally mature on screen beyond all of the Cubs they used to play.

      As for the story I felt there was some weaknesses regarding the dialogue but I ‘m going to assume that working with Skywalker studio’s trumped having any script supervision or modification authority. Yet as a director, I think Hemingway, and I’m going to assume he wasn’t there at the outset of the project, should have negotiated for an expert of his liking to oversee the factual aspects of the period.

      Stylistically, LB you made reference to some comic book character to the story which I will agree with and will attribute this to Lucas. I think that this stylistic characteristic is wonderful when making reference to silver screen serials of the forties, but real life historical events probably require a different kind of attention entirely. I noticed to accommodate the light action fare they were determined to create, complete fabrications of the period happened frequently. No one used the noun “man” as a term of endearment until the sixties, and most don’t say, “man up” now; yet both were spoken in the movie. In regard to Lightning’s character the screenwriter seemed to have trouble distinguishing recklessness and suicidal tendencies, but if you aren’t a student of that period’s race relations it probably doesn’t matter if some events aren’t depicted accurately regarding the 1940’s behavior.

      A friend of mine told me most African American’s saw the film when it was first released so I imagine most were at least modestly pleased with the film. I’m not in love with this movie, but I’m glad that many who wanted to hear this story had their requests satisfied.

      • littlebells January 30, 2012 at 4:18 PM #

        I love your assessment, CR. And yes, facts should have been checked, Ts crossed, and I’s dotted. As long as one wasn’t expecting a true drama, then this film is good. I hope one can be made that actually focuses on real soldiers and their experiences. Hey at least they used real aircraft. That pleased the hubs BIG time.

        • Comic Relief January 30, 2012 at 4:33 PM #

          We’ll that where and your hubs and I agree. The action scenes and most material aspects of the film we’re admirable.

          I found a documentary a short time ago referring to the event and I will post it if i find it again.

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