When I was about 10, my parents, in a misguided effort to instill some sort of ethnic pride in me, told me I was related to Booker T. Washington.
That would have been awesome had it not been a total lie. I am not related to Booker T. I am however, related to an actual hero—a fact my parents neglected to mention until we were literally standing in front of a picture in the Smithsonian and my mom more than casually said: “Oh, there’s your Uncle Andrew…Did you wanna get lunch?”
Turns out, my Uncle Andrew was one of the Tuskegee Airmen–the pilots who are the subject of George Lucas’s latest film, Red Tails.
This is his picture…the one that’s in the Smithsonian…no big deal…just the Smithsonian.
No big deal.
Anyhoo, I had the opportunity to hear Lucas speak about this film months and months ago at work. He’s also been doing the requisite publicity tours lately and I caught his appearance on The Daily Show where he repeated a sentiment he’s been touting since I first heard him talk about Red Tails last year.
Lucas has been talking about how the big studios in Hollywood didn’t want to pay for the production or promotion of this film because it was an all-black action movie and they a) didn’t think it would play and b) didn’t know how to market a blacktion movie like that in the first place.
When I heard him say this, I was shocked!!
I mean, Lucas should have known better. Of course a movie like this is doomed! I mean, sure, it’s got huge, awesome fighting sequences, war, drama, amazing special effects work, a compelling not-yet-over-told story and nostalgia. But it also has black people in it. And as we’ve learned from movies like these, these, these, these, these and these, unless it’s a man in a fat suit, putting black people in movies just doesn’t make sense.
And Hollywood is totally faithful to its pattern of not putting out films with elements that have been proven not to work. Just look at some recent big budget flops.
Mars Needs Moms – In this animated, boy-centric, action flick based on a book of the same name, a chore-phobic kids goes a a planet where there are no women to make sure life doesn’t fall apart due to lack of laundry.
- Budget v. Box Office: $175 million/$38 million
- Notes: Think how much worse the movie would have been if when they went to the Uncanny Valley, they came back with a little black kid to play the lead and not a little white one. The title wasn’t “Compton Needs Crack,” after all.
The Green Lantern – Ryan Reynold wears Spandex and saves some segment of humanity.
- Budget v. Box Office: $325 million/$219 million
- Notes: Again, at least it wasn’t a black dude…like it is in the comic books. I mean, the Black Green Lantern? You wouldn’t even be able to see that.
What’s Your Number? – Anna Faris believes she has had too much sex.
- Budget v. Box Office: $20 million v. $6 million
- Notes: Just think what a travesty this would have been if one of the leads were of color! They wouldn’t even be able to call up a number because their phones would have been cut off.
Conan the Barbarian – I’m sure this movie is about something, but I was distracted by the 14-pack.
- Budget v. Box Office: $90 million v. $49 million
- Notes: “Conan the Blackbarian?” I don’t think so. I mean, a Blackbearian sound adorable. But a big black guy running through towns brandishing weapons? Um, I spent way too much money to live in this gated community so I don’t have to see that.
Prince of Persia – Didn’t realize Persia was in the OC.
- Budget v. Box Office: $200 million v. $90 million
- Notes: Very similar to the Conan casting problem. Even though Persia is a country populated by brown people, if you give one of ’em a big weapon–even if it is a scimitar–you’re just asking for trouble.
Clearly there are some things that just don’t work in movies. And that’s why there are only a few hundred movies coming out in the next few years that feature things like animation, white kids, motion capture, novel adaptations, superheros, white guys, New York, white gals, over sexed 20-somethings, contrived ticking clocks, singles who are totally oblivious to the fact that the person of their dreams is standing right in front of them, epics, horses, weapons, big CG crowds, Los Angeles and gigantic budgets.
Though all of those elements are consistently present in movies that do terribly, it’s really just good science to run a few more test cases just to be sure.
No need to figure that shiz out for black folks, though. Totally obvious they can’t make a movie work.
For an equally disturbing trend in TV, click here.
Are you related to anyone awesome (apart from your awesome self?). Do you wish you were? Tell us about your family history in the comments!
*Seriously, someone help me out with the Star Wars references. I’ve never seen the movies.
Wait. That Jason Momoa is black? WTF? what kind of standards of black do you got in America..
No, he’s not. That’s the point. 🙂
Obviously some segment of the population is interested in action-y movies starring actors of color or the Fast & the Furious franchise wouldn’t be raking in so much damn cash. I love the films myself.
I just wish it wasn’t the exception.
As long as it’s blacksplotation-esque, everybody loves it!! (Black exploitation films were mostly action-y) Hero movies with blacks in it? Eh, no fun in that so it gets no love.
I have one correction/comment to your article to make (this is the second one; why am I such a busybody that I have I appointed myself your unpaid editor?).
Many people believe that the Green Lantern movie changed the superhero’s race to white, though he was originally black in the comic books. That’s not 100% accurate, though: Unlike many comic book heroes, there have actually been a bunch of different Green Lanterns in this comic book series. This superhero is more of a job than a individual guy. The deal is that when one dude grows bored with fighting supervillainy, he retires and gets replaced by a *new* Green Lantern.
So basically, the movie selected one of the several white male Green Lanterns that have appeared over the history of the comics, rather than the black one (or the female one), to make a movie about.
Your original point stands, though. I’m sure they figured a white one would be more marketable. And I am sure I just told you far more than you really wanted to know about this subject …
They picked the most famous Green lantern, Hal Jordan. He got more of a story than Stewart who were in the animated series were most got the idea that he’s black. He was basicly a token black guy with an unintresting story // I asked husband.
I agree. That’s how the idea got started that the “original” Green Lantern was black, and that the movie-makers had taken license with the story. Way more people are familiar with the animated series than the comic books, so they don’t realize that only one of the multiple Green Lanterns was black.
And you’re also right that they probably picked the most well-known of the character’s multiple identities for the movie.
But it’s also true that movie producers/investors are leery about making “black” movies. It’s not that they’re all racists; it’s just that they’re afraid (rightly or wrongly) that the non-black majority of the American public can’t relate to black protagonists and won’t go watch a movie that features them.
That second paragraph should say “most well-known to comic book readers.” Otherwise, what I said is a bit confusing.
Also the ONE for people who got to know the DC-Superheroes by way of the Superfriends cartoons.
My husband is a descendant of Mary Boleyn, “Mistress of Kings,” Anne Boleyn’s much-maligned sister. Also awesome — one of his ancestors was knighted by King Richard the Lionhearted. Me, I got nuthin’. Because my people lived in Scandohoovia, where they were too busy trying to keep warm and find food to bother becoming literate and write shit down.
One of the more interesting things about doing deep genealogy is how rapidly the family tree branches. I won’t bore you with the math, but _everyone_ with any English ancestry at all is descended from every old royal tree.
I achieved the dream of every Scotsman when I found out _how_ I am descended from Robert the Bruce. But I’m not sure there was much question I was descended from him. I have some god-awfully large number of slots for ancestors, if you take things that far back, and there were only a few people in Scotland at the time. So, basically everyone with cots ancestry is a descendent of the Bruce. Don’t get me started on the Plantagenets.
As usual, your observations are very insightful and entertaining, but I don’t completely agree with your take here. In the Henry Louis Gates series America Beyond the Color Line (2004) he did an episode called Los Angeles: Black Hollywood. If you get a chance, watch his interview with the producer Arnon Milchan. It’s all there.
Even weirder when you think about Blade, starring Wesley Snipes and Sanaa Lathan. Budget 45M, Domestic gross 70M, worldwide gross 130M. It was awesome if you like your vampires sliced into pieces instead of made-out-with.
I dunno if Blade counts as blaxploitation or not.
Yep, that televisision series about Blade the Vampire Slayer, he was REALLY called that in the comics, got everything wrong. Race, sex, spelling of his name, good series though.
Never saw the TV one.
But some more things about the successful Blade series that Hollywood better be careful not to repeat: Black Love Interest (N’Bushe Wright), and, iirc, No Spandex.
Likewise with teh Cosby Show. All Black cast. Never work. We don’t know how to market that kind of thing.
Great article. You always crack me up. I made a video about the movie if you wanna see it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IEasJ1FOws4
I just viewed the movie last night in an American Base theater, fine movie. Also being attached to an Army Aviation unit, veiwing this movie while deployed to the mid east made the moment real poignant. Enjoyed the moment immensely with my deployed family of all races. I enjoy watching black movies with primarily black audiences, it seems the more outspoken come out and it’s always funny. Especially when a crowd is into it like we were. I felt pride in Army Aviation history along with the American Black History. Here’s to the greatest generation, may God bless them for all they did for us, in any color.
There was a line in the movie, rings funny. A group of pilots in a bar, white and black, black pilot addresses his white comrades and says;
yawll get angry – you turn red
yawll get envious – you turn green
yawll get scared – you turn yellow
and yawll have the nerve to call US colored!
LOL – funny…I don’t care WHO you are!
I thank your great uncle for his service. How different the world would be had that generation not stand up when and how they did. God bless them.
It wasn’t the matter of Hollywood not wanting to make a film with a all black cast in it— it’s the matter of Hollywood not wanting to make a sucky George Lucas film. Dude hasn’t made a good film since American Graffiti, and even THAT is questionable.
As for the myth of the non-existent all-black film…doesn’t Tyler Perry do that, like, every other film? Sofía Vergara gets the “Dayuuum, girl” pass because she’s, well, Sofía Vergara, and most brothers won’t mind that she’s in the film because she’ll always wear that air tight dress that’s two sizes too small (It’s all right, Soph. Just keep looking into the camera, and don’t inhale too deeply).
Red Tails didn’t get made because it was a black film. Red Tails didn’t get made for 20 years because it was fluff. It would have been better to give 1/10 the money to Ken Burns and let him make a documentary on Tuskegee. Just saying.
I would try and put into a short comment my hatred for, urm, feelings on Tyler Perry joints…but I’ve done it before on the blog, so here ya go: