The art of Kevin Blythe Sampson

THE ART OF
KEVIN BLYTHE SAMPSON

1/20/12

'Red Tails': If the George Lucas epic flops, are black audiences to blame?

Entertainment

'Red Tails': If the George Lucas epic flops, are black audiences to blame?


'Red Tails': If the George Lucas epic flops, are black audiences to blame?
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Cuba Gooding, Jr. in 'Red Tails'

Still, the fact that major Hollywood films about black history are regrettably rare is not lost on black audiences or black directors. And there may be a sense of pride, or in some cases guilt, sufficient to motivate black audiences to turn out for the film in big numbers.

The most successful and prolific (for better or for worse) African-American director working today -- Tyler Perry -- has not only praised Red Tails, but has also warned that black audiences should support it since films of its kind may soon be "extinct".

"Please take your kids, you will enjoy it and so will they. There is a lot of action and adventure and also a great history lesson to be learned, " Perry wrote on his website recently. "George [Lucas], I just want to say, thank you for having the courage to do this," he added.

At the same time Red Tails is opening in the wake of the box office success of The Help. While that film was bolstered by a popular best selling book, a mixed race cast and a lighter tone, it did not shy away from portraying a very real part of the black experience. Whether or not it did so sufficiently -- with enough grit and darkness -- has been debated ad nauseum, but the film was a tremendous success critically and commercially.

In the same condescending fashion, in which Hollywood pundits declared the success of Bridesmaids definitive proof that women can carry R-rated comedies, The Help's popularity may be viewed as the beginning of a 'black film' renaissance. However, the bottom line is that that popular films, like The Color Purple some 27 years ago, offer audiences entertainment as well as genuine historical context.

Of course, black audiences are no more obligated to support The Help as women are obligated to see Bridesmaids. These films had mass appeal, regardless of race or gender, which explains why they became the phenomena they were.

Red Tails won't attract audiences because it was hard to finance. The film will have to deliver dramatically or it will have been all for naught. The Tuskegee Airmen's story has potential for a compelling melodrama, but if this film falls short it will be the fault of the filmmakers and no one else.

Red Tails may become a surprise word-of-mouth hit and recoup its budget, but the odds may be insurmountable for a movie that one critic called "as synthetic and dull as The Phantom Menace." In the film industry today, where film production and marketing is more expensive than ever, a big budget film lives or dies by its opening weekend. So regardless of its merits, we should know by Monday morning whether Red Tails soared or came crashing down.

'Red Tails': If the George Lucas epic flops, are black audiences to blame?