Why It Doesn’t Matter If I Go See “Red Tails”

Apparently, George Lucas went through hell to get “Red Tails” made, all the way down to spending $58 million of his own money to get it produced. Go to the 1:38 mark of the following video.

For a second, I’m going to stop and think about being able to say “$58 million of my money.” Let’s just say you’ll never have to worry about me doing such a thing. I wasn’t good for $58 of my own money until after I turned 30.

Anyway, the hell he went through. Lucas spells it out pretty clearly here.

Lucas explained Monday on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, “It’s a reasonably expensive movie. Normally black movies, say Tyler Perry movies or something, they’re very low budget. Even they won’t really release his movies, it goes to one of the lower, not major distributors…And this costs more than what those movies make.

He continued, “They don’t believe there’s any foreign market for it and that’s 60 percent of their profit…I showed it to all of them and they said ‘No. We don’t know how to market a movie like this.’

“Unlike the Matthew Broderick-Denzel Washington Civil War drama Glory or other films depicting black soldiers in battle, the World War II pic Red Tails does not feature a white protagonist, said Lucas, “It’s an all-black movie. There’s no major white roles in it at all. It’s one of the first, all-black action pictures ever made. It’s not Glory where you have a lot of white officers running these guys into cannon fire. They were real heroes.”

Now, if I were into war movies, I’d be the first guy out there to watch it. Or movies of any sort, for that matter. It’s just not what I do. So if I don’t go see it, don’t bring the Drop Squad to my house. I wouldn’t go see it if Dorothy Dandridge was in it. As for the rest of you, do what you do.

That said, do what you do because you want to do it, not because somebody tried to guilt you into doing your part for the cause. Sorry, but as much as this is a convenient excuse to get on black people for going to see Tyler Perry movies instead of something about our history — as if white people would skip Star Wars to watch something on the Teapot Dome scandal — it really doesn’t matter how many black people go and see this movie. Not even a little bit.

What, you think the reason Hollywood doesn’t make big budget movies about black people is because…black people won’t watch them? You really think, if every black person in America goes and sees “Red Tails,” there’s going to be a long line of big-budget black movies hitting theaters near you? What, black people are the reason the studios don’t think these films will make international bank? They drawing that many folks to the box office in Africa?

Noooooo, the reason movies like these can’t get made is, clearly, studios don’t think white people will go see serious depiction of the African-American experience (or, put in a way less likely to offend, “can’t market it”). I’d gander that’s also the same reason that television shows with predominantly black casts are dinosauric on television now. Hell, I’ve never heard a person who truly watched the wire say something less than laudatory, but it couldn’t get a ratings foothold in any of its five years with its brilliant, predominantly black cast.

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I won’t even begin to get into why white people seem averse to predominantly black programming. I honestly have little to offer but conjecture, and I don’t think I’m in a position to take a survey that would yield honest, non-defensive, compelling answers. Roland Martin raises a fascinating question when he asks whether the problem is whether or not fils are marketed as being “black.”

Let’s take two black men dressing up as women. When Martin Lawrence does it in “Big Momma’s House,” that isn’t marketed as a “black film.” As a result, it grossed $117.5 million in the United States and $56.4 million worldwide.

Yet Tyler Perry’s “Madea Goes to Jail,” another movie featuring a black guy dressed as a grandmother, did $90 million in the U.S., and they didn’t even bother to show it overseas. Maybe that’s because Tyler Perry’s “Madea’s Family Vacation” only did $50,000 in ticket sales worldwide three years earlier, and $63.2 million in the U.S.

Of course, there are some significant differences at play. For one, Martin has been a mainstream star for 20 years, and it stands to reason his profile would sell more movies than Perry’s. Second, I honestly don’t know how one would truly relate to Perry’s insular works if they did not grow up in the black church (I didn’t, and I can’t).

But I can say, in my personal experience selling race-neutral content as a black man, whether or not something is marketed as “black” may tell the tale financially, but not so much whether something will get the green or red light. Last time I got outright fired, I was let go by a company in spite of high ratings and a work history that couldn’t be impugned. Which is to say, I worked hard and proved I could get white people to listen to me in large numbers…but (and this is my guess, since every explanation I received didn’t make any sense) just didn’t seem to fit the brand image of the folks I would have been working for.

Truth is, the money in media remains certain that white people cannot handle authentic depictions of blackness, whether the point is to be “black” or not. The difficult part, of course, is figuring out just how sincere their fears are. Even when it seems they aren’t, the suits are certain of something different.

After all, these cats didn’t get to where they are by being stupid. And, in this economy, I’m not sure who’s passing up something one legitimately thinks will make money. But you can take it from someone who’s been playing this game for a long time, and is fairly close to having face-to-face conversations with the real money: the suits tend to be afraid of black stuff, and they think the public is, too.

Is it? Too bad we rarely get a real chance to find out.

“Red Tails,” I suppose, will be a fascinating case study. And if people, of any kind, don’t want to see it? Then they don’t, even if Lucas makes you feel guilty. I’m not asking anybody to explain. The previews don’t excite me, and it’s got Terence Howard cuba Gooding, Jr. in it. Again, I’m not the guy they’re going to reach.

That’s the thing: when I say I’m not asking anyone to explain, I mean anyone. Nothing blows my mind more than hearing people get self-righteous about what other people do with their leisure time. They don’t wanna read a book when they get off work? Neither do I. Say something.

And ultimately, that’s what it will come down to at the box office with “Red Tails.” Do people want to watch the movie? Why they do and don’t? That’s for the studio to figure out.

If you don’t, they already think they know why. There’s little chance they’ll consider it further. And guess what? That’ll happen whether I go watch the movie or not.

I wish it success, if for no other reason than I’ve got nothing better to do. But if you think it matters if I go to see it, when it might not even matter if white people do, you’re about to learn a harsh lesson.

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