Famed Hollywood director George Lucas–the creator of Star Wars and Indiana Jones–has been getting a lot of attention for comments he made noting how hard it was for his new movie, Red Tails, to get made because it has an all-black cast. Of course this all-black cast includes an Oscar winner like Cuba Gooding Jr. and heartthrobs like Terrence Howard, but I guess they don’t really count in Hollywood. They’re still black.
Of course directors like Spike Lee have been crying out the same tune for decades, but when Mr. Hollywood says it, then it takes on a dramatically different meaning–as in, now it must be true.
On The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Lucas–who said he spent almost $100 million of his own money to make and distribute Red Tails–joked that the movie had the old-fashioned look and feel of a movie made in the 1940’s because it was actually shot in the 1940’s and he’s been fighting the studio since then to get it distributed.
But I won’t quarrel with the hue of the messenger. If it takes a George Lucas to bring attention to this issue, then I will just give thanks that somebody finally came along with the clout to bring the issue to the mainstream. This is me giving George and his $100 million (he’s worth a reported $3.2 billion) a standing ovation.
My intent here is to talk about George’s message. Effectively, this ridiculous phenomenon is a shameful indictment of the black community. We are a community that spends a trillion dollars a year in this country. Yes, trillion with a T. From automobiles to healthcare, sneakers to entertain systems, we spend money on the things that are important to us. But it seems that whenever a movie comes along that portrays us in a positive light, we fail to show up to the box office. We don’t vote with our feet. We send out the clear message that if there’s no violence, if there’s no shucking and jiving, if there’s no oversexed story line or ridiculous plot, we’re not interested. And Hollywood has received this message loud and clear.
According to Lucas, this phenomenon has been reduced by Hollywood to what sounds like a formula–we’ll call it the Tyler Perry Theorem: If a movie costs more to make than a Tyler Perry movie typically grosses, then Hollywood won’t make it. It’s dead in the water. In other words, Tyler’s success has established the upper limit of black movie revenues.
But what would happen if the black community decided en masse to support Red Tails, a thrilling saga of the World War II heroes The Tuskegee Airmen? The film would make a ton of money and at the same time black people would have sent a clear message that we care about substance and we care about our media images. We will have done a huge service to all the black directors, writers and actors who will be coming along in future years with fabulous stories to tell. We would have been exercising some of our vast economic power to make a difference.
Nick Chiles is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and New York Times bestselling author.