Last week was the second time in two weeks I went to an actual movie theater. As a parent of a toddler, I’ve gone to the movies more this year than the entire 2011 calendar year. But there was a reason. Red Tails.
All weekend my Facebook feed was full of positive and negative reviews. Some would never go see a movie about blacks produced by a “white guy”. Wonder if they knew it was directed by a African-American, Anthony Hemingway. Yes, also the director of episodes of The Wire, CSI: NY, The Closer, and Treme. Shows that those same folks love and enjoy. Another negative? This film wasn’t an accurate historic portrayal of what the Tuskegee Airmen went through. George Lucas stated that he had to cut out tons of material to make it a “blockbuster-type” movie. To some, this factored into their disdain for the film. Most of these critics love the HBO Film (a great film by the way) starring Laurence Fishburne. It shows the struggle. It goes into more detail on issue of race.
Others loved the film. And they let it be known. They scheduled events to go view the movie with large groups of people. In fact, one group of friends actually got to meet one of the Tuskegee Airman. How cool is that? One of my close friends who met him said, “It was quite surreal. I fought in Iraq. He fought in WWII. It was a great moment. And to see him getting shown some love…was priceless.”
So you can see there’s even a divide in the African-American community over this portrayal of part of our history.
Me? Since it’s voting season, I’ll couch my opinion in election terms. I’m a Red Tails “moderate”. On one hand, I went to support the film. I don’t care who produced it. Well I’m not sure I would have gone if Newt Gingrich directed it, but you get what I’m saying. None of our prominent African-American filmmakers undertook this venture. Probably because we’re too busy making “black man saves black woman from despair” relationship movies (oops). Or probably because Spike Lee’s Miracle at St Anna didn’t fare well at theatres. Either way, WHO CARES! The only thing Hollywood is going to look at…numbers. So that’s why I got in my car on a Saturday morning and went down to the AMC. Not because I love Stars Wars, but because I love Black History and I want the studios to realize there is a market for our story.
Side Note: I took a theology and film course at my seminary. One of the critiques I had of the class…not one black film. Not one. They had a Japanese film and films from every genre imaginable. Not one black film. So I did my final project on Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing“. The professor commended me for my choice and critique and said he’d implement more black films in the future. But in order for him (and society as a whole) to incorporate our story we have to get it out there. And this was one way to do so.
With that said, I was not very impressed with the dialogue and presentation. Taking it for what it was worth (a “blockbuster-type” film), I feel like the dialogue fell short in several scenes and, at times, was a little corny. As a southerner, Ne-Yo’s accent annoyed me (though he was born in Arkansas, lost that accent I guess). To no end. But he did provide some comedy relief. Terrence Howard’s speeches before missions were uninspiring. And yes, the film was kind of “blockbuster”-ish in presentation. Lengthy fight scenes. German antagonist. Explosions and action. And it fell way short on presenting the struggles of the Tuskegee Airman, both at home and abroad. My one concern: some will see this as a solid historical account of the Tuskegee Airmen when there is so much more to their story.
But I think back to that Tuskegee Airman my friend met. As he stood in the lobby of the AMC, people were amazed and humbled. He spent years having his story go untold in Hollywood, as he watched other, less deserving depictions of other events released. But that night…was his night. And in a sense, it was our night too. Flaws and all.