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S&A Top 10 Posts Of 2012 - #9: 'Why Did "Red Tails" Fail To Soar At The Box Office?'

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by Tambay A. Obenson
December 26, 2012 10:24 AM
12 Comments
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Recapping what I said about this series a couple of days ago when I started it...

I'll begin counting down the top 10 S&A posts of 2012, considering a number of factors, like number of comments, Facebook "likes," Facebook "shares," Twitter retweets, page views, and more.

The countdowan will continue through next week Wednesday, as we enter the new year, when the top post/item will be revealed.

Number 10 on the list, posted on Monday, was Cybel Martin's A Cinematographer’s Plea to the Budding Film Auteur : Move Your CameraIf you missed it, click HERE to read (or re-read).

The #9 top post on S&A during the year, 2012 is Sergio's Analysis on why Red Tails didn't perform strongly at the box office, especially after all the hype leading up to its release; you remember that film right? We talked a lot about it late last year, engaging in lots of debate, especially after the first trailer surfaced in July. And of course, some of the conversation bled into this year, when the film was released in January. 

So, without further ado, the #9 most popular S&A post of 2012, here's Sergio's post again, titled Why Did "Red Tails" Fail To Soar At The Box Office?:

So even though it can't be called a box office bust grossing over $36 million so far, it is fair to say that Red Tails is a b.o. disappoinment that will have a hard struggle just making back its reported $58 million production cost. At this stage it's iffy that the film will make $50 million. Compare that to Underworld Awakening which opened the same day as Red Tails and will breeze past $50 million this weekend with more to come.

So what happened? I have a few theories which I'm sure many of you will disagree with...

1) Bad movie/Bad word of mouth - To put it into a few words, the film sucks...big time. As I've said before, what could have been a truly important and inspring film has been trivialized by the heavy hand of George Lucas into an inconsequential, juvenile, badly acted film with laughable dialogue aimed at 12 year olds. Saving Private Ryan it is most certainly not. I personally don't know anyone who has seen the film who likes it. And months before the film came out, I was already hearing bad things about it from friends who had seen it at test previews, and they told me that the audience was laughing at the film. At the screening I attended the same thing occurred. Bad movie = bad word of mouth

Now of course I'm sure that I'll be hearing from people who say they liked it, but what they're really saying is :"Well at least it wasn't a Tyler Perry movie or a lame rom-com with Gabrielle Union so we should be grateful." That isn't enough "Ooohh look, a movie with a black hero!" If you want to see a film with a black hero, go see Slaughter's Big Rip-Off with Jim Brown which is way better than Red Tails.

And let me add that I get pissed off whenever I hear someone say that the film is a "great tribute" to black WWII soldiers. Not hardly. Not even close. My father was a WWII veteran and if he was still around today he would have called Red Tails a load of B.S. Believe me, he could tell you stories about being a black soldier fighting overseas during the war. Red Tails ain't it. Meanwhile I'll stick with Where Eagles Dare.

2) The "Obligation" Factor - I've dealt with this before more than once here so no need to go into detail about it again, except to say that people go see films because they WANT to and not because of any moral sense of duty or obligation. And Red Tails was definitely promoted as the one black film that was your absolute duty to see because if you didn't THERE WOULD NEVER BE ANOTHER BLACK FILM MADE AGAIN IN YOUR LIFETIME OR IN YOUR CHILDREN'S LIFETIME AND YOUR CHILDREN'S CHILDREN LIFETIME.

So what happened? People, not surprisingly, stayed away - though many of them will catch it later on DVD and Netflix after the furor and pressure to see it goes down.

Now there were many people aggressively pushing us to go see the film to "send Hollywood a message!" Please. What they were really saying was: "If the movie flops then we'll never see any $150 million Mission Impossible sequels with all black casts (and no, Paula Patton doesn't count...)." Hey I got news for you. There never were and there'll never be $150 million black films or $100 million black films with or without Paula Patton for that matter either, even if Red Tails was a hit. Wake up.

And something else too that ticked me off was this whole spin that Lucas had become the last great King of Kings and Lord of Lords of black cinema which was promoted in the media and by Lucas himself. I mean the same guy who gave us Jar Jar Binks and those little "African" Ewoks was going to be the savior and future of black cinema? Really? And even worse was the fact that there were black people who believed it. You're kidding me right?

3) No Star Power - A film like this needed a Denzel, Will, Idris, Eddie and a Chris Rock for comedy relief. Can you imagine what would have happened if a few or all of them had been in the film? You would have stopped reading this article right now and gotten in line at the theater to see the film - a line stretching around the block and up the street for a mile. I take that back because actually a film like that with some or all of them in it, would have been held back for a big summer release with all the PR hype bells and whistles, and wouldn't have been stuck in that "ghettoland" MLK Holiday black film release slot.

Of course Lucas didn't go for any of them because it would have been expensive and, actually, even worse for him; he would have had no absolute control over the film since they would have had the power. But they would have made it a better film, no question about that, especially with all the script changes they would have demanded. And besides, Lucas is worth $3.5 billion (which comes from all that Star Wars merchandising and licensing which he owns 100% of) so he could have afforded to hire not only a few but all of them, or he could have made a back-end deal in which they got some money up front and the majority of it later from the grosses of which, with them in it, there would have been plenty.

So instead we have Nate Parker and David Oyelowo, two actors with potential but not household names yet. There's Cuba Gooding Jr., who, let's face it, no one would call A-list. But at least Red Tails is the first film he's done in a while that hasn't gone straight-to-DVD. And that leaves us with Terrence Howard. Yeah I know, I know...

Is there anyone who likes whimpering, cry-baby-voiced Terence Howard? ANYONE? Raise your hands. Go ahead.... There's got to be someone.. anyone?

4) Tough Competition - All those 14 year old boys the movie was aimed at had other films they were more interested in like Underworld or Chronicle (which is, by the way, a genuinely solid, absoultely terrific movie and I'm not even the audience that film was made for). Those films looked a lot more interesting and were something they could relate more to than Red Tails. Meanwhile the adult audience that Red Tails should have been attracting were turned off by the comic book, 8th grade approach of the film. So who's the audience for it?

5) Sisters Not Welcome - That fantasyland, fairytale interracial romance in the film between Oyelowo and an Italian woman raised the ire of a whole lot of sisters. There was even some talk of a possible boycott that didn't really materialize into a real concrete boycott movement. But no doubt, there were many black women who refused to see the film because of it. I know several who did, and every black woman I know who saw the film was NOT happy about it .

And when word got out that a black actress who was in the film, Jazmine Sullivan, was actaully cut out of the movie entirely, made things even worse. And then to add insult to injury was that video interview with Oyelowo and Howard that spread like wildfire throughout the internet in which they explained how dating white women showed black men what was possible, and how they could achive anything. (You know I've never seen anyone in real life slit their own throat before, that is before I saw Oyelowo and Howard do it)

But almost always in war films women are involved in some way. If not in the actual story, then in flashacks where solders remember a sweetheart or a loved one waiting for him to return. But not only was there none of that in Red Tails, no one even mentions a woman; a girlfriend, a wife, a sister, a daughter, a grandmother. No one even has a photo of Lena Horne on the wall. What are they, a bunch of monks? Instead we get this sappy love story which starts off when Oyelowo, flying 1000 feet overfead, sees this white woman and instantly falls in love with her, calling over again and again "the most beautful woman" he's ever seen. Is that right?  From 1000 feet in the air? Flying at over 200MPH?   WOW! That's the awesome power of white women! No wonder sisters are upset. How can you compete with that?

So that's it. I've said enough. What do you say?

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12 Comments

  • Marie | December 27, 2012 11:17 AMReply

    I think there were a few problems. First, this was Anthony Hemingway's theatrical directorial debut. His experience is tv and I personally feel that many tv directors rarely move to theatrical comfortably (I would put J.J. Abrams in that category as well. His movies feel like blown up tv shows to me.) Second, having Aaron McGruder as one of the writers spelled trouble from the beginning. Screenwriting is not McGruder's area of expertise. So both the director and writer were not the best choices. Third, I think we need to acknowledge that George Lucas is NOT a good director and his limitations might have rubbed off onto Hemingway. There seemed to be more effort put into the CGI aerial combat scenes than into creating real characters. I appreciate Lucas wanting to tell a story about black WWII soldiers but I knew immediately that he was NOT the guy to do it well. Therefore, it ended up being a cheesy, tv-ish movie. As for beating out Haywire opening weekend, it didn't take much to beat that movie. I found Haywire surprisingly dull (Soderbergh was off with that and Magic Mike but spot on with Contagion.) So it didn't take much for Red Tails to beat it. Also, as mentioned in the post, I don't like being told that I HAVE to see a movie, like my life depends upon it or something. They pulled that same crap with Beloved and Amistad, two movies that were, again, just not very good. It's simple: make a good movie and people will come. Instead Hollywood makes bad movies then tells us that we need to spend $13 to see their crap or else. And they wonder why they're struggling.

  • Adam Scott Thompson | December 26, 2012 5:54 PMReply

    Despite any other comorbidity present, a coroner must choose one primary disease/disorder as the "cause of death." In this case: The film sucked (like slurping spaghetti with cornballs and wack sauce). Beyond that, the other reasons cease to matter. i/j/s

  • Elaine | December 26, 2012 5:10 PMReply

    With total honesty, it was that web video interview with Oyelowo and Howard that turned my inner parts against the movie. I am just fed up with paying hard earned money to see a movie (and much less turning the televison on) and then being disrepected to score points for a larger and often whiter audience. This is just my two cents. It probably doesn't count for much of anything!

  • JaySmack | June 29, 2013 9:17 AM

    Not to necropost but clearly you never saw Waiting to Exhale, Lakeview Terrace, For Colored Girls or Scandal.
    Black women have spent years if not decades (Color Purple here) running black men into the ground, and have wasted the law few years manufacturing interracial fantasies.
    Then these same black women DEMAND that black men pay their hard-earned money to see such garbage. If you can't take it, don't dish it out and certainly don't complain about it later.

  • Bee | December 26, 2012 8:08 PM

    Exactly. And an interview I saw with the filmmaker annoyed me - the white filmmaker reeked of an entitlement mindset wherein he seemed to feel we, blacks, were obligated to support his black film. Thus, for the reasons you mentioned and this, I didn't go see it. Finally, I watched it on HBO and it sucked.

  • getthesenets | December 26, 2012 1:24 PMReply

    red tails was a "Wire" reuninon.

    michael, cheese, wallace

    gotta keep the nazis WAY down in the hole......

  • LEEBEY | January 2, 2013 8:38 PM

    Ok, that cracked me up.

  • Wise | December 26, 2012 1:11 PMReply

    "Red Tails" is one of those movies that I saw on HBO and watched over and over, laughing mightily...but woulda been PISSED had I watched it in the theater without the benefit of rewind (and fast fwd). Had I watched in the theater I would have been scratching my head at Ne-Yo's "accent," but at home?? It was the best part of the film. Funny how perspective shifts when financial burden isnt as immediate as the purchase of a $12 movie ticket.

    I may be a sister in the minority but I wasn't offended by the white woman...they were in Italy after all. But as Sergio pointed out, I was confused as to why she was the only woman in this movie's world (visible from the clouds, even). And I must agree that some star power would have made all the difference, but only because stars would've demanded (producer credits) a more complete script.

  • ALM | December 26, 2012 6:27 PM

    @ Wise. I'm with you. The interracial relationship didn't bother me, although I was concerned that they cut Jazmine Sullivan out. There wasn't enough screen time to show both relationships? That just doesn't make sense.

  • mstradford | December 26, 2012 12:37 PMReply

    Black oriented films not set in the present day generally go bust at the box office, whether they're good or not. I don't know why this has been the case more often than not, but for every one that works ('Dreamgirls'), there are ten that don't (Devil in a Blue Dress, Baddass, Cadillac Records, etc.). Even 'Malcolm X' financially underperformed , given the talent involved. Add to the mix that 'Red Tails' just wasn't a very good film (pedestrian script, miscast key roles, no real point of view) and the unfortunate end result isn't surprising. Hopefully the failure of this and Spike Lee's 'Miracle at S. Anna' won't put future filmmakers off from trying to accurately capture the story of Black soldiers (and their women) of WWII in a thoughtful, creative and commercially successful way.

  • Donella | December 26, 2012 12:07 PMReply

    It's funny that the story became Why Red Tails Failed to Soar and not WHY RED TAILS SOARED PAST AND OUT-PERFORMED HAYWIRE, the movie that opened the same weekend. While Red Tails [$49,876,377] made less than Underworld: Awakening [$160,379,930], this majority Black ensemble directed by Tony Hemingway certainly dominated the all-star ensemble (Antonio Banderas, Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor, Michael Douglas, Channing Tatum, Bill Paxton) of Haywire [$18,942,396]--even when directed by former Oscar-winner Soderbergh.

  • JaySmack | June 29, 2013 9:21 AM

    Because someone at Shadow & Act has an axe to grind --what, you didn't get and interview you thought you were entitled to? Poor baby. Here's a pacifier and a change of diapers!
    Also, whenever someone drags out the old saw about "the sistas" I immediately tune them out.

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