“It’s exactly like Star Wars…The story is too fantastic and wonderful to cram into 2 hours.” If we get a good first weekend…there is a prequel and a sequel and they’re better than this movie by a long shot…I took the soft center."
Well, it is what it is! I find this clip of George Lucas discussing RED TAILS on the Daily Show both illuminating and amusing!
Illuminating because he addresses some of my very mixed feelings about the movie. My father, Lee (Buddy) Archer, was a Tuskegee Airman and he and his good friend Dr. Roscoe Brown ("The Gruesome Twosome"), consulted on the film and appeared in the accompanying documentary, Double Victory. Dad passed away in January 2010 and did not get to see any of the completed film.
I attended a preview screening a couple of months ago and the premiere last week. The film, much improved from the first time I saw it, should be supported. As a daughter, at first I found Red Tails disappointing, having had the good fortune to hear first-hand stories from the Airmen all of my life (I'll never forget the image of the small sea of red jackets at my mother's funeral in 1996). As a filmmaker tho', I'm intrigued by the way Red Tails is being hyped, the vague authorship of the movie and how it fits into Black cinema, historically. The amusing part is that I thought that Lucas called the film the 1st black-cast film (!) but, in fact, he claims "It's one the first all-black action pictures ever made."(see below)
Also funny--or at least a little hyperbolic--is his fear that the film, if it fails, will endanger if not destroy the opportunities for black filmmakers from this weekend on--prompting from Greg Tate and others the moniker “George Lucas, Black Filmmaker”! But I think Lucas is actually referring to the dangers of big —or should I say GI-normous budget films with predominantly black cast with a black director at the helm. This confused authorship between Lucas and the film’s director, Anthony Hemingway, is intriguing and in the clip Lucas self-effacingly disparages the film (the "soft" center) but inadvertently or unconsciously depending on how you feel about Lucas’ motives, displaces director Hemingway who he does not otherwise refer to in the interview.
The soapy and boyish "soft center" he describes is a truncated and specifically located episode, with hugely compressed characters. The focus then is mainly on dogfights and air(and digital) technology with an almost complete lack of context for the characters--particularly the absense of black women or almost any women--who are not even referenced (no gals back home? No sisters, no Mamas?), nor of African Americans at home following the airmen's adventures.
Well, I guess all of this was relegated to the prequels and sequels that hopefully will be produced (and maybe with my help!)but now hang in the balance of the OPENING WEEKEND BOX OFFICE!!
Anyway, all of this reminds me that all-black/colored movies directed by blacks and whites have existed since the movies began. There’s more than one per decade (I'll make a list later)! For example, preserved in part by our own Women’s Film Preservation Fund, A Fool and His Money (1912) is thought to be the first American film featuring an all African-American cast. And it was made by a LADY!—Alice Guy Blaché who owned Solax Studios, in Fort Lee, New Jersey and produced and directed dozens of films in the silent era.
The first all black action picture? What about The Norman Studios The Flying Ace set in WW1 and made in 1926! This film featured air battles, special effects (the camera turns completely upside down), comedy, action, daring aerial rescues AND romance!!
Here is a great clip from this rarely screened jewel!
Whether they run for two hours or for "6 SMASHING Reels!" black-cast films with their delights, issues, failings and travails are uniquely American and for me, essential in our understanding of the history of cinema.
SO,go see Red Tails this weekend!! You'll have fun!
More about the film a little later but if you are planning to see RED TAILS (2012) d. Anthony Hemingway, consider supporting it this opening weekend. The film cannot begin to represent the incredible history and amazing stories of the Airmen (which I have had the fortune to hear all of my life) but IT IS exciting, action-packed, appropriate for young people and well-acted with an attractive cast! It's clearly a labor of love and deserves an (enthusiastic and critical) audience.
Red Tails Trailer
Above: "Ina The Macon Belle" restored P-51 by Kermit Weeks and Dad and the original, early 1940s