George Lucas has invested over $90 million of his own money to finance Red Tails, a film about black pilots who fought in World War Two. Why? Because Hollywood says that they can't market a movie with an all-black cast. Despite the fact that notable actors like Cuba Gooding Jr. and Terrence Howard will star in the film, distributors claim that there's simply no audience for a movie like this.
Lucas claims that he showed the film to several major studios, who declined to distribute it because there's "no major white roles."
"I showed it to all of them and they said, 'No. We don't know how to market a movie like this…' They don't believe there's any foreign market for it, and that's sixty percent of their profit."
The problem is, when America thinks of movies with no major white roles, films like Big Momma's House and Tyler Perry's Diary of a Mad House of Madea's Family Reunion Going To Jail instantly come to mind. They imagine comedies with Martin Lawrence and Eddie Murphy, where stereotype-driven racial humor is the focus of the film.
It's not like this is the first time there's been controversy over the lack of black actors in Hollywood playing major roles, particularly in the context of a historical war drama — Spike Lee criticized Clint Eastwood for his starch-white cast in Letters from Iwo Jima and Flags of Our Fathers, saying, "He did two films about Iwo Jima back to back and there was not one black solider in both of those films." But Lucas believes the problem is more financial than racial.
"It's a reasonably expensive movie. Normally black movies, say Tyler Perry movies or something, they're very low-budget. Even then, the [Hollywood studios] won't release his movie — it goes to one of the lower, not major distributors. This [film] costs more than what those movies make."
On top of the $58 million to finance the making of the film, George is putting a further $35 million towards distribution to get the project off the ground.
I hope Red Tails takes off — not only to tip the balance of black movies away from "Black people are this way, white people are this way" jokes, but to see the unlikely rise of George Lucas, civil-rights champion.