Red Tails is not the end of African American cinema. I can’t hold it responsible for the lack of roles for African American women. Lucas started working on it long before he met Mellody Hobson so it can’t be seen as the power of black female sexuality either. Like The Great Debaters before it, Red Tails is a flawed film that might have been better served as a PBS series.
I had the pleasure of knowing some Tuskegee Airmen. They weren’t just men of achievement. They were funny, smart, flawed — all over the map. As others have noted, this film manages to make them boring.
Three things did this film in.
At one time, dignity and nobility were important steps forward for African American film characters. The demeaning roles blacks played before the breakthrough roles of the 1950s needed to go — despite the wit that brilliant performers like Hattie McDaniel used to undermine stereotypes. One terrific example: Donald Bogle has a picture of Hattie McDaniel and points out the supposed “mammy’s” exquisite manicure.
However, since the late 1950s pop culture has celebrated the antihero (Drive, Pulp Fiction). That makes the noble character seems increasingly less relatable and less human.
With no wives or sweethearts waiting for the characters at home, an ambiguous mission, no definitive action sequence and unbelievably boring speechifying from Terrence Howard, Red Tails‘ characters seem completely marginal, and devoid of context. There is very little for an audience to hook into.
Same crap different day. It’s the age old, creating believable, three dimensional characters. It’s obviously more of a challenge when we’re writing across race, age or gender but to say that it can’t be done is a cop out.
But props for the effort nonetheless. Who’s the audience for this film? The audiences of MI: Ghost Protocol or the Tyler Perry machine? If George Lucas thinks that it will appeal to the Star Wars and Indiana Jones fan base, he and his team are in for some disappointments.
The Glory problem, the Sidney Poitier box.