Two plus two does not always equal four. It’s true. In the world of film things don’t always add up to what they’re supposed to. They should. You want them to. I want them to. But sometimes they just don’t.
Sitting in the theatre before watching Red Tails I had that sinking feeling. The feeling like two plus two wouldn’t equal four. But I didn’t listen, though. I had faith in the cinema Gods. I thought that Red Tails, created by some of my favorite creators of all time, and acted by some of the most talented actors on the planet would offer some semblance rollicking escapism and possibly even a little social commentary.
I was wrong.
I realized this during the opening credits, a terrible signifier of things to come. Initially, I thought the opening credits were actually in-narrative opening credits. As in: you play a really poorly executed opening credits and then you pull back to reveal what you’ve been watching was actually on a TV screen and the characters that you’re really going to follow for the next two hours were just watching a TV-show or something. Oh, no. That’s not what happened. The, what I’m sure was immense, budget for this film was apparently allocated to the visual effects department alone. The opening credits appear to be created by a seventh grader in windows moviemaker. They are quite possibly the worst opening credits I have ever seen, anywhere.
As the film goes on various African American pilots are established and an ensemble is built. The film should be a virtual who’s who of the African American celebrity community, and I suppose it could be perceived as such. However, the performances are so strange and misguided that it almost feels like a bizarre carnival attraction rather than what should be a culturally important film. It almost feels like there should be someone standing in front of the theatre chanting in a stereotypically streethucksterish fashion, ‘Come see all these actors that you love in other things together on screen!’ For example, Ne-Yo, the famed singer, plays a young musician with facial ticks and an accent that is so cartoonishly thick I think I maybe understood every third word he said. I had an easier time understanding the dialogue from the pikeys in Snatch. I wanted to like Ne-Yo. I like Ne-Yo in real life. However, his bizarre character choices and the fact that he’s beautiful man who doesn’t look like he was born in the 1940’s are supremely distracting.
Having distracting performances is the least of the films problems, though. The fact that it’s terrible on just about ever level is the real concern. The story is stale and forced, the pacing is terrible, and the actors look like they don’t know what’s happening in about half the scenes. I hate to say this but they kind of have a Star War-esque feeling to them. That slow, aching sense of bewilderment that is rife within the prequels? Yeah, that’s here. I haven’t really experience this misuse of talent since Frank Miller’s The Spirit.
I wanted this movie to be good. I’m a huge Aaron McGruder fan. I’m a huge George Lucas fan. I know, I know. That’s a strange thing to say these days, but it’s true. I love George Lucas. The man had an immense impact on my life and I’ll more than likely show up for everything he ever has a hand in.
And here’s the trump card, I wanted this movie to make money to show the studio system that all black movies are fiscally successful. George Lucas pumped millions of his own money into this production because no studio would make the movie. And at this point it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Movies with all black casts don’t make money, not because white people don’t want to see them, because they’re usually not good. Red Tails is a perfect example of that. It’s a subject that every American is familiar with, set in a time period that is commonly seen, with actors that everybody knows. The only reason it failed is because it’s terrible.
This is a situation similar to the female comics book movie. Studios don’t want to make movies based on female comic book characters because they think no one goes to see them. That’s just plain and simple not true. If you made a solid Wonder Woman movie people would turn out in droves, but that hasn’t happened because of Electra and Catwoman. They ignore the fact that Electra and Catwoman were terrible films and focus in on the fact that they have female leads. That, at the end of the day, is the defining attribute of the film. All the failure is laid squarely at the woman’s feet who stared in the film. It’s their fault the film failed. More accurately, it’s their gender’s fault that the film failed. Not the fact that Electra was a spin off from a failed franchise, starring someone that nobody liked as the character, in a really shitty movie that has next to nothing to do with the source material. That doesn’t play into things at all. Why would it? It has no baring on if the movie made money. Oh, wait. Maybe it is a small contributing factor.
I want more films with all black casts. And I want them yesterday. I want young filmmakers to show the studios what they’re doing wrong. I want people rise up and take the power back.
Ok, maybe that last bit was over the top but that’s how I feel about it. I’m passionate about taking the cinema screen away from white male faces. I want movies about people from all walks of life overcoming or succumbing to a multitude of problems, but I don’t want them to be George Clooney. I want there to be fifteen people on the level of Denzel. The only way that’s going to happen is if we, the collective creative community, demand it of each other.
That and don’t make another Red Tails for the love of God.