Where innuendo is always welcome
Whenever I see a prominent figure bring up a socially divisive and sensitive subject such as racial inequality or the sanctity marriage, I try to discern two things: a) What is it that motivates this person to broach this topic in public and, b) Does he have the “right” to serve as an advocate in this discussion? With regards to the latter question, I don’t mean to suggest that there are conditions which should prohibit someone from trumpeting any cause he so chooses. All I am saying is that there are certain individuals who lack the requisite credibility and prerequisites to serve as champions for their respective causes. Take our good friend Uncle Newtie Gingrich. At a recent GOP debate in New Hampshire, he waxed poetic about keeping marriage confined to good-old-fashioned, hetero monogamy as it has been for the past 3,000 years1, rather than modifying the institution to consider things like, “being understanding, considerate and concerned” as reasons for inclusion. Now, the average sane person—once informed that Newt is currently on his third wife after previously divorcing his first wife while she was going through a battle with cancer and then divorcing his second wife whilst already boning the eventual third wife—would rightly ask themselves, “Why the hell is this guy preaching to me about marriage?”2
Anyone who happened to catch The Daily Show on Monday night probably had a similar reaction when George Lucas began berating Hollywood for being racist. Lucas, who was on the show to promote his new film, Red Tails. On the show, Lucas busted out a fairly sizable, glossy-print race card to show the audience at home, lamenting the fact that no one in Hollywood would fund the film because studios claimed they “didn’t know how market a movie [with all black characters]” and wouldn’t back something that didn’t have any major white roles. All of this may be very true and not not trying to downplay the veracity of these statements in general. I’m sure that there are instances where it is significantly harder for a predominantly black cast and crew to get large amounts of funding for a film than it would be for a white cast and crew, especially if there is no marquee name stars attached to the project. What I am saying is that this theory most likely doesn’t hold true for this movie in particular and that Lucas is using a mitigating factor (race) to explain a bigger problem (why no one wanted to fund this movie). Correlation does not mean cause.
Let’s start off by going right for the hypocrite jugular on this one. George Lucas was on The Daily Show promoting this film. George Lucas’ official title for the film is Executive Producer. I defy you to name the last time you saw an Executive Producer running the talk show circuit. Maybe Ron Howard the last time he funded some zany side project…maybe. You’re telling me, George, that you couldn’t send out one of your black stars like Terrence Howard or Cuba Gooding Jr. to promote the film? What about your black director Anthony Hemingway or your two black co-screenwriters, John Ridley and Aaron MacGruder? Instead, you decided it was high time the flanneled wonder himself graced Jon Stewart’s audience with his presence, a decision that could mean one of two things, both of them bad. A) It might imply that you actually hold similar beliefs to those Hollywood-types you just criticized and that you don’t believe your all-black cast can adequately sell this movie on their own. Or, b) it just means that you are a supremely egotistical fuckwit who just needed to have a soap box to stand on. Oh yeah, and lets just do a quick run down of all the great black characters that George Lucas has put on screen. All I’ve got is Lando Calrissean, whatever the crap character Samuel L Jackson’s Jedi-ass was, and the Stepin Fetchit stylings of Jar Jar Binks. Yep….that’s all of ’em…all three of ’em.
So, since we got over the whole George Lucas-being-a-tool-thing, let’s get on to the real reasons why this movie had such a hard time coming to fruition. First, the film has no big name star. Sure people are familiar with Terrence Howard and probably like Cuba Gooding Jr., but that doesn’t mean they’re box office draws. Cuba Gooding Jr’s career nosedived right around the time he opted to make Snow Dogs and Gay Boat (Okay…okay, the film was actually called Boat Trip) and hasn’t had to carry a movie as a principle lead since the ill-advised developmental disability drama, Radio. Howard, on the other hand, has turned in some great performances in small, independent films like Hustle & Flow and Crash, but has never successfully pulled off a big-budget popcorn flick. If Red Tails had been able to get some A-List black protagonists for the film, like Denzel, Will Smith, Morgan Freeman or Samuel L. Jackson, then his movie would have been plenty well funded. Even that second-tier of great black actors who can aren’t considered instant box office draws, but still can carry a film—guys like Don Cheadle, Jaime Foxx, Laurence Fishburne—would have made it unnecessary for George Lucas to go on cable television and tell us his tale of woe.
Beyond the wattage of the actors involved, the men behind the camera don’t do much to inspire confidence. Director Anthony Hemingway has done some fantastic work with some high-quality TV shows like The Wire, Treme, First Blood and The Closer, but he has never directed a feature film before. Likewise, the two screenwriters for the film, John Ridley and Aaron MacGruder, have some nice credentials, but seem like odd choices for a Biopic about the Tuskegee Airmen. Both men have their writing backgrounds in TV comedy, Ridley most recently with The Wanda Sykes Show and the TV series Barbershop, while MacGruder is the creative force behind The Boondocks. And of course, there is Lucasfilm itself. The last good movie they produced was Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade back in 1989. Ever since then they’ve raked in huge box office numbers by trotting out sequels and prequels of little substance to fan bases who would gladly pay to see anything related to their beloved franchise (be it Star Wars or Indiana Jones) on the screen. And, since Red Tails isn’t set on Tattooine and doesn’t involve any absentee archaeology professors, then we can pretty much rule that crowd out.
If you have any doubts as to the validity of my argument, I implore you to watch the trailer. Does anything about this film scream out to you, “I must see this!” Listening to Terrence Howard’s canned speech about bringing back husbands to their wives I can actually hear him stifling a yawn. It might have something to do with the fact that both Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr. have played Tuskegee Airmen before in their careers. Howard played one of two Tuskegee Airmen prisoners of war alongside Bruce Willis and Colin Farrell in Hart’s War, while Cuba Gooding Jr. was in the critically acclaimed HBO movie The Tuskegee Airmen, which had a legitimately all-star cast, featuring Laurence Fishburn, Andre Braugher, Mekhi Phifer, Malcolm-Jamal Warner and Courtney B. Vance. Somehow, a white guy bitching about not getting funding for a movie because it was too black, when a movie about the same historical figures had already been made once in the mid-90’s, doesn’t really tug at my heartstrings.
1Even if I spot conservative Christian critics of gay marriage the contention that, somehow, the world is only 6,000 years old (I don’t know where the shit Newt got that 3,000 year business from), the Adam-Eve not Adam-Steve claim still makes no sense. You know what language the New Testament was originally written in? That’s right, it was Ancient Greek. And do you know what Ancient Greek men loved more than anything in the world besides getting wine drunk and philosophizing? They loved butt sex! Oh, hellfire and brimstone did they love themselves some gay romps. Sure, they had their lovely wives to tend the hearth at home, but who are they kidding? They just wanted to wrestle around with teenage boys and hit the sauna. If some Creationist historian could point out to me this supposedly bucolic time when dudes didn’t fuck other dudes, I’d be glad to listen.
2While I am loathe to admit I’ve ever seen the show, this is the reason why The Millionaire Matchmaker is bull-hooey. The woman who runs the matchmaking service is supposed to be this Grand Poobah of romance and the damned woman’s a 50-year old spinster.