14 January 2012

Red Tails

Dig the trailer for this movie, coming out next week:

I'm excited about catching this opening weekend.

There's politics involved, but let's start with how the story of the Tuskegee Airmen is as awesome a subject for a movie as you could hope for. You've got ærial dogfights, just about the most cinegenic subject ever. You've got heroic underdogs whom nobody believes in, but who will win the respect of the people who doubted them. You've got a battle with the forces of evil. It's a heartwarming true story. You couldn't ask for a more perfect example of what Hollywood does well. It would take a rare talent to make a bad movie from the material, and the advanced word on the movie is that it's good.

Plus the politics are important. Hollywood believes that you cannot sell a Black cast to a White audience. They believe that you definitely cannot sell “Black history” (which is to say, ahem, American history) to a White audience. In 1997, John Singleton tried to prove that wrong with Rosewood, and staked a great deal on delivering an epic true story with an all-Black cast, but despite being a very good film it did poorly at the box office. That's certainly a reflection of racism in America, though I suspect that the movie being a downer was also a major contributing factor. Hollywood took the wrong lesson, and decided that they weren't making any more big movies that Black again. Red Tails only happened because George Lucas reached into his deep pockets and bankrolled the movie's production and distribution; the rest of the film industry wouldn't touch it. Opening weekend box office numbers are going to send a message, and I want to vote with my dollars.

I also want to vote with my face. I spent most of New Years' Day on a protest march commemorating the death of Oscar Grant, and not only because I care about the Oscar Grant incident in itself (though I do) but because it's important for there not only be Black faces in the crowd when there are people gathered around “Black issues.” There are times when White people need to represent. This is one of them. If it helps a little bit for a theater owner to see White people showing up to see Red Tails, if it helps for a Black moviegoer to see White people showing up, then I want to show up.

Plus I have to confess that I get a selfish extra benefit from that. There are some movies for which the quiet politeness of a White audience is not what I want. One of the best moviegoing experiences of my life was seeing Blade with a Black audience. Look at that trailer again and check out those ærial dogfights. This is a movie I want to see on a big screen with an audience that will raise the roof.

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