If you were one of the many foot soldiers that hit the ground and bombarded the box office to see Red Tails, you need to pat yourself on the back, the film opened No. 2, behind Kate Beckinsale’s action film Underworld Awakening, which grossed $9.4 million.
You did it; Red Tails posted a “stronger than expected” opening with a take of $6 million on Friday, and is projected to hit the $16 million mark for the weekend.
Let’s put second place at the box office in perspective, Underworld, the $70 million fourth installment of Beckinsale’s franchise, was released in 3D and Imax, and produced by Screen Gems and Lakeshore entertainment.
As you know, George Lucas spent two decades pursuing Red Tails a movie about the Tuskegee Airmen, and had to finance the project on his own, to the tune of $58 million in production costs and $35 million in distribution.
Lucas has stated that Hollywood was not ready to embrace (or finance) a film with an all-black cast. Lucas produced the film with Rick McCallum, and feared that if it did not do well at the box office even more doors would close to all-black casts in the film industry.
Lucas could not have predicted that his gem of a film about heroic black men would spark a controversy about the film’s lack of black women.
Red Tails Controversy
Red Tails received the highest audience reaction rating, a CinemaScore of “A,” but there is a controversy growing online about the lack of black women portrayed in the film.
The controversy can be traced to the popular Clutch magazine, where the reviewer of Red Tails clarified her position on the interracial love affair depicted in the film. “I made mention of one aspect of the story — the romance between a black airman and a white Italian woman — that I thought was superfluous to the plot and could easily be left on the cutting room floor.”
Clutch clarified her review of Red Tails: “Ultimately, my observation was based on efficiency in storytelling. It was not some deep aversion to the idea that a young man far from home would find comfort in the arms of a beautiful woman.”
From there, online commenters have deliberated the lack of black females in the film, and in extremes, the lack of respect for the black female actress in Hollywood.
On WeareRespectableNegroes, commenters said:
AJ: “The majority of the Tuskegee airmen had BW [black women] for wives/girlfriends — why can’t we see a high quality, big budget romance between them? Please.”
Jess: “Think about your daughters. If they are going to watch a film celebrating black achievements, why are they discounted and pushed to the sidelines always for someone white? Every war movie *except* those with black soldiers show the soldiers fighting to come home to their women (of the same race).”
Conversely, blogger Jamila Akil of BeyondBlackandWhite acknowledges the rumblings of black women who refuse to see the film because of the interracial relationship, and because “the one black actress who had a prominent place in the movie ended up having her scenes left on the cutting room floor in post-production,” she noted.
Nevertheless, Akil introduces this perspective to the controversy: “Interracial love affairs are increasingly being made a part of movies because the number of interracial couples is increasing, and those couples want to see their relationships represented in popular culture, particularly advertising and movies.”
Aside from the controversy, Red Tails is effective in getting the story out about these black heroes, and has sparked a renewed interest in the Tuskegee Airmen and in the 1995 HBO film, “The Tuskegee Airmen,” that starred Laurence Fishburne.
Clips from the entire film can be viewed on YouTube.