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Spurned By Hollywood, George Lucas Spends $58 Million Of His Own Money Bringing Tuskegee Airmen Story to Big Screen

by Alonzo on January 11, 2012

It seems stories of gritty gang-bang urban drama can get the Hollywood green light.

So too can corny “black guy falls in love with black girl but not before some formulaic drama” type flicks.

But propose a movie about a real piece of American history featuring a largely African-American cast and you’re bound to face resistance.

That’s the challenge even noted filmmaker George Lucas faced as he pitched Red Tails, his movie about the legendary Tuskegee Airmen.

According to Lucas, major studio heads rejected the film because they did not feel there was a market for such a movie featuring a predominantly Black cast.

“They felt there was no evidence that this sort of film would draw a big audience. I said I disagreed,” George Lucas told USA Today.

The film draws its title from the distinctive crimson paint the black pilots applied to the tail sections of their fighter craft. During World War II the all African-American aviation unit escorted American bombers over the skies of Europe, receiving several military honors of distinction in the process. But it was a war on two fronts. While fighting Germans in the air they also fought discrimination and racism back home. Their success ultimately paved the way for an integrated United States armed forces.

Lucas had envisioned bringing the story of the Tuskegee Airmen to life for the last 23 years, but lack of cooperation from Hollywood executives forced him to finance the movie with $58 million dollars of his own money.

And Lucas has given Red Tails top notch treatment in the process. Anthony Hemmingway of HBO Treme and The Wire fame was tapped to direct the film which features the likes of Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrance Howard, and Ne-Yo. Special effects for the film took over a year to complete.

But George Lucas himself understands what’s at stake. A successful Red Tails movie could pave the way for more films that portray the fullness of African-American experience, one that goes far beyond hoods, gang-bangers, and stereotypical comedy sludge.

“I realize that by accident I’ve now put the black film community at risk [with Red Tails, whose $58 million budget far exceeds typical all-black productions]. I’m saying, if this doesn’t work, there’s a good chance you’ll stay where you are for quite a while. It’ll be harder for you guys to break out of that [lower-budget] mold. But if I can break through with this movie, then hopefully there will be someone else out there saying let’s make a prequel and sequel, and soon you have more Tyler Perrys out there.”

Ultimately, the success of Red Tails may lie in the fact that it’s not just a “black” story, but an “American” story of heroism, adversity, and triumph. And that’s the reason audiences of all ethnicities may prove the Hollywood’s executes who shunned the movie wrong.

Red Tails premiers in theaters on January 20th.

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