It has been more than 15 years since HBO brought the story of the Tuskegee Airmen to larger audiences — and now, the story of the black pilots who soared the skies in World War II is hitting the big screen in George Lucas’ Red Tails. The film, which opens today, took Lucas two decades to complete and was hampered by lack of interest by major Hollywood studios. He told The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart the movie’s all-black cast was the reason why.
“This is not the first film that’s had a struggle to get something done or told,” Red Tails director Anthony Hemingway told theGrio’s Todd Johnson in an interview. “We’ve all been trying to take the focus off that. This [film] is about the Tuskegee Airmen.”
Hemingway, who has also directed several episodes of the HBO series Treme, as well as the cult classic drama The Wire, admitted he wasn’t shocked by Lucas’ struggles with the film and says the “system of Hollywood” has historically been slow to tell stories that focus on African-Americans.
Red Tails star Nate Parker agrees. The 32-year-old actor portrays ace airman Martin “Easy” Julian. He said one of the first things director George Lucas shared with him before filming began was that there were people who told him Star Wars wasn’t going to work.
“I think [Lucas financing this film himself] really speaks to his patriotism and it speaks to his ideals,” Parker said. “Everybody needs to be able to tell their own stories. They need to have the resources, they deserve to have the resources. They deserve to be taken seriously.”
In a recent post on his website, Hollywood’s highest paid man, Tyler Perry, said movies starring an all African-American cast “are on the verge of becoming extinct.” Parker said that Perry’s comments may sound harsh but reflect the reality of the times – times he hopes to change with Red Tails.
“What we’re doing with this film is proving that the African-American experience – that this American story — can be a green thing too,” he said. ”[We’re proving] that people want to see this story — white, black, old, young – it’s patriotic.”
Perry cites decreases in the number of DVD sales and the lack of selling power for black films in foreign markets as the two reasons all-black casts will become a thing of the past. Despite this, he has been a tremendous advocate for the film and is encouraging his fans to see the movie in droves.
Nate Parker said he is hopeful Red Tails proves critics wrong and makes it easier for other ‘black’ films to follow.
“If this [film] is successful, it means a lot, not just for us, in the sense of the black community, but the Latino community, the Asian community,”