Had second thoughts about posting this, given how fiery debates on these issues tend to get on S&A; also, what both actors say here is redundant, as we've heard this all before. But, what the hell, it's Friday. Bring it :)
So... George Lucas' Tuskegee Airmen film, Red Tails (you all know about it, right?) screened for the Congressional Black Caucus recently, and, in attendance were stars Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr, who had a few things to say about Hollywood's approach when it comes to black talent and films with black casts, as well as the significance of the success of Red Tails.
First, from Terrence Howard:
The…problem, and what becomes the undercurrent is that it’s an all-black cast, and the villains are white. Now, Hollywood, for a number of years has maintained the status quo by saying black films do not have an international value. Therefore we’re able to pay black actors less, we can give them less money to make their films…If this film, if George Lucas, who is basically the Parrish of the film industry, as Col. Noel Parrish did for the Tuskeegee Airbase, he put his entire career on the line and stood behind these black pilots, these American pilots. What George Lucas did, he put his entire career on the line…when they wouldn’t distribute it, he put $30 million into distribution. If this film is not successful, it will become a stumbling block for all time where they can say that black films do not have value or merit. It’s important that this film is supported…if George Lucas does not profit from this, then the rest of the industry will see no profit in black people.
Damn! Pressure much? I feel like I hear this almost every time a major Hollywood film with a predominantly black cast is about to be released... "if black audiences don't support this, then blacks in Hollywood are effed! No more black films from studios, because they'll say that we didn't support the last one!" That about sum it up?
And second, from Cuba Gooding, Jr.:
[When George Lucas was asked about the studio system's support of Tyler Perry he said] you have to understand that Tyler Perry took his own money…then when his movies were hits, the studios said they didn’t know how to market them. So they had to go outside the studio system ...The studio system is what it is, run by people who are afraid ... Until they come out of that fear, we have to thank our lucky stars for these men who see this as an opportunity... There aren’t many examples of filmmakers who get their product to the screen with the support of the system... To strive to promote black independent filmmakers, I go to festivals, I meet them, and then when people offer me projects that don’t have directors, I tell them, what about this guy? [People like director Lee Daniels, with whom Gooding's made several movies], these are the new voices in Hollywood…With Spike Lee, this black director, now that we have him, we don’t have to look anymore. We’ve got one. I’m with CAA, and I tell [Gooding's agent], who’s the next voice? Men and women, let’s get them. Let’s support them in a big studio project...
In essence... Shit is rough son! Hustle hard!
What will the success of Red Tails mean for "black film" in the long run? I dunno. How about the success of The Help, which has grossed $150 million thus far, mean for blacks in Hollywood in the short and long term? I dunno... Again, I feel like these are all scenarios we've been presented with in the past.
For example, I remember Halle Berry and Denzel Washington winning the 2 top acting awards at the Oscars almost 10 years ago. I remember the buzz being all about what that moment meant for blacks in Hollywood, and how things might change going forward. Exactly how much did things change?
I can go back to the late 80s/early 90s, the "Golden era of Black cinema" as some have labeled it, with the rush of films we saw by a variety of black filmmakers. I remember back then there was talk of a renaissance of sorts; there was an excitement at what may come. What happened? Especially since we're still having the same damn debates that we were having 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80... years ago!
When Red Tails drops, will I see it? Of course I will! At a press screening most likely, which I won't have to pay for, but I'll see it :) Seriously though, if I see it at a press screening, and if I dig it, you know I'll be singing its praises on S&A. I'll even take the GF along and pay to see it a second time when it's in general release.
But I'm not ready to place this burden on it, as Terrence has done in his quote, making these hyperbolic statements about what its success or (failure) might mean. It's one film, and I'll treat it as one film, as I've done all the others that came before it. All I can ask for at this point is that it's good (from my POV anyway), and if it is, that people see it. Whatever happens after that... who knows.
Maybe because I gave up on looking to Hollywood studios a long time ago (since they continue to disappoint) that words like this don't affect me much anymore. Like I said in my review for The Help, "yo, I'm tired;" I'm numb from this shit. But I'm sure some of y'all feel differently, so don't let me stop you from dishing... :)