ROLAND S. MARTIN: Seeing ‘Red’ Over Hollywood’s Treatment Of Blacks | Roland Martin Reports

ROLAND S. MARTIN: Seeing ‘Red’ Over Hollywood’s Treatment Of Blacks

By Roland S. Martin
Editor-in-Chief
RolandMartinReports.com

Who knew that 70 years after African American pilots had to work hard to overcome the prejudices of whites in the United States Armed Services, and the nation having its first black commander-in-chief, the men known as the Tuskegee Airmen would still be doing battle with an entrenched institution of white power brokers, all based on the color of their skin.

Many of you may have seen the flashy commercials advertising “Red Tails,” the major motion picture that chronicles the amazing and true story of true American heroes: black pilots who had to expend enormous energy fighting racism in America just to go overseas to fight for the very freedom and democracy that they could not enjoy at home. The film opens January 20 in theaters nationwide, and for its producer George Lucas, it has been a 23-year odyssey.

You would think that someone considered one of the most powerful players in Hollywood — a man who has made billions with blockbusters such as the “Indiana Jones” and “Star Wars” franchises — would have been able to get “Red Tails” approved without any hesitation. Yet what many African Americans have always long known in Hollywood is that the color of your skin — or that of the story you want to tell — often falls victim to the racial boxes in Tinseltown.

Terrence Howard And Cuba Gooding, Jr. On Their New Film “Red Tails,” The Story Of The Tuskegee Airmen (VIDEO) 

WATCH: Red Tails Official Trailer

Red Tails Preview, George Lucas Went The Extra Mile To Get The Film Done (VIDEO)

WATCH: ‘Red Tails’ Star Tristan Wilds Soars In Exclusive Clip

George Lucas: Hollywood Didn’t Want To Fund ‘Red Tails’ Because Of Its Black Cast (VIDEO)

Oh, sure, Hollywood is seen as a liberal bastion where folks talk about equality and supporting civil rights. But when it comes to telling stories that have mostly black casts, Hollywood might as well return to the ’50s and ’60s and erect signs that say “Whites Only.” When Lucas approached the major Hollywood studios about backing “Red Tails,” he was told, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

“There’s no major white roles in it at all … I showed it to all of them, and they said no; we don’t know how to market a movie like this,” Lucas told Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show.”

Let’s juxtapose that against some other facts:

  • In 2008, 69 million people elected Barack Hussein Obama as president of the United States.
  • The most talked-about woman in America over the last 25 years was Oprah Winfrey, who redefined the talk show genre.
  • Which athlete has the top-selling jersey in the NBA? LeBron James.
  • Who is considered the top-grossing actor of all-time? Samuel L. Jackson.
  • Arguably the greatest entertainer of all time is Michael Jackson.
  • The greatest golfer in the world? Tiger Woods.
  • The most dominating players in women’s tennis? Venus and Serena Williams.
  • The top singer today? Beyonce.
  • Hip-hop, an outgrowth of black culture, is a worldwide phenomenon. And 80 percent of the consumers of hip-hop music in America are white kids.

So whites all across America have come to accept African Americans in a variety of entertainment mediums, but Hollywood continues to tell us that somehow seeing Blacks on the big screen is anathema to its values.

Maybe what no one in Hollywood wants to own up to is that in many ways, it’s a closed-minded society where it’s hard to find African Americans in positions of true power.

In the history of Hollywood, no African American has ever headed a major studio. Yes, we’ve seen Black CEOs at American Express, Time Warner, Xerox, Merrill Lynch, Symantec and other major companies, but the doors of opportunities are closed in Hollywood. Does this mean African Americans aren’t hired? No. But those are low-level positions where they desperately fight the good fight, knowing full well they will never ascend to the top of the food chain in Hollywood.

Part of Hollywood’s problem is that when looking at a movie that has, like “Red Tails,” a mostly black cast, it is considered a “black film.”

“Red Tails” isn’t a black movie. It’s a war movie. It’s an action movie. It’s a story of true American heroes overcoming great odds to succeed. That was the conclusion of Alabama head football coach Nick Saban, who showed the film to his team the night before they demolished LSU for the BCS national title.

Did Saban conclude that it was a “black film”? Not at all. He simply gave it a resounding endorsement.

This racial fight may be new to George Lucas, but to African Americans, this has been a long and painful battle.

A few months ago on my TV One Cable Network Sunday show, “Washington Watch,” I talked with actor Brian White, who has starred in “Stomp the Yard,” “Fighting” and the critically acclaimed TV show “Men of a Certain Age.” He told a stunning story that shows the ignorance of Hollywood regarding an independent movie he starred in with Zoe Saldana, “The Heart Specialist.”

“Dennis Cooper, the writer, director and producer, is a caucasian man who had some friends,” White said.

“His friend David was the inspiration for Dr. Z and Dr. Howard — a Harvard-educated doctor that was involved with the film. And Dennis sold this great script to the studios, but he left the character descriptions out.

“When the studios found out the leads were black, they didn’t want to make the movie anymore, and Dennis had to go take his own money and his friends’ money and make this movie himself and then start the long road to getting a distribution deal.”

This isn’t just the big studios.

The Weinstein Company produced “The Hurricane Season,” a basketball film about two teams coming together in the wake of Hurricane Katrina to win the Louisiana state championship. Yet the movie went straight to DVD, angering lead actor Forest Whitaker and others in the film, including Taraji Henson, Courtney B. Vance, Isaiah Washington and the rapper Bow Wow.

The excuse given to the actors? The Weinstein Company’s people said they didn’t know how to market the film. Really. A movie with basketball at the center of the story? Folks, come on!

Hollywood critics will be quick to say, “What about Will Smith? Denzel Washington? Halle Berry?” What’s interesting in Hollywood is that if you’re Will Smith, Denzel Washington or a handful of others, you really aren’t seen as “black.” For them, they have crossed the post-racial threshold, and in Hollywood’s eyes, white America will watch them.

But if you talk to them and so many other top Hollywood actors, they will also tell you stories of having doors slammed in their faces, trying to get movies made featuring mostly blacks and being told, “Can’t you make the characters white?”

What is also at play is that for Hollywood, having one black guy in a film that has mostly whites is never called a “white film.” But if it’s one or two white guys in a film with mostly blacks, uh-oh — black film!

The latest excuse offered up by the Hollywood studios is that black films don’t sell well overseas. What that means is that foreigners also don’t want to see black people. Again, I believe the problem is how the movies are categorized.

Let’s take two black men dressing up as women. When Martin Lawrence does it in “Big Momma’s House,” that isn’t marketed as a black film. As a result, it grossed $117.5 million in the U.S. and $56.4 million worldwide.

Yet Tyler Perry’s “Madea Goes to Jail,” another movie featuring a black guy dressed as a grandmother, did $90 million in the U.S., and they didn’t even bother to show it overseas. Maybe that’s because Tyler Perry’s “Madea’s Family Vacation” sold only $50,000 worth of tickets worldwide three years earlier and grossed $63.2 million in the U.S.

Now, if Hollywood knows how to sell white men dressed as women — Robin Williams in “Mrs. Doubtfire” and Dustin Hoffman in “Tootsie” — along with largely white casts, it can’t figure out how to do the same for a Tyler Perry?

George Lucas has clearly expressed his fears with “Red Tails,” hoping it opens huge so it will send a message to Hollywood that a big-budget action film with lots of black folks can be successful. The downside? If it fails, it will be seen as a failure of all black action films.

Several Hollywood executives told me that when the Queen Latifah/Common-helmed film, “Just Wright,” didn’t meet expectations and grossed only $21.5 million — it was marketed as a black film — the result was a virtual shutdown of all romantic comedies featuring African Americans. Yet Jennifer Aniston can put out failed romantic comedy after romantic comedy, and no one says “white romantic comedies” should end.

Have we returned to the days when Jackie Robinson couldn’t fail because if he did, the whole race would be set back? That’s essentially what Hollywood is saying.

I want you to go and see “Red Tails” not because it is a historical depiction of a true period in America, but because it’s one helluva film. The action scenes are first-rate, and the storytelling is superb. Are the main characters black? Yep. Just do as I do when I go and see a movie that features an all-white cast, which is most of the time: Go for the enjoyment.

If so, maybe the libs in Hollywood will finally realize that a great story, when sold as such, rather than being specifically marketed as a black film, can bring people of all stripes to the movie theater.

There used to be a time in the movie theater when whites would sit downstairs, and if blacks were allowed in, they had had to sit upstairs. Today, it’s clear that such a racial divide is no longer in place in the seats but now on the screen. And that’s a damn shame.

Roland S. Martin is an award-winning CNN analyst and author of the book “The First: President Barack Obama’s Road to the White House as Originally Reported by Roland S. Martin.” Please visit his website at RolandSMartin.com. To find out more about Roland S. Martin and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2012 CREATORS.COM

  • I can not understand why this crazy way of thinking still goes on in America. Another ethnic group that gets put on the back burnner are the Native Americans. Hollywood has Jonny Depp playing Tonto in the Lone Ranger movie instead of a true blooded Native America. And Hollywood use to use Italians in their movies when a Native American should have been in the role.

    • Anonymous

      You are right.  I get the Johnny Depp part since I can’t really think of a big ative lead – Adam Beach is not as old as Johnny.  Lous Diamond Phillips has enough star power to have been considered, but I see no reason other indian actors can’t have major roles.

  • What I don’t understand is the anger Roland.  Your one of the best out there on most subjects but yet on the other hand you spew more hatred and racism in one article than I have come in contact with in my entire life.  I’m 53.  I knew about  the Tuskegee Airmen when I was a kid.  I recently watched an amazing documentary on them on PBS.
      Wasn’t the Color Purple a mostly black film (as you put it)?  Was it not showered with and nominated for just about every award the industry has to offer?  Isn’t it considered an American classic?  I prefer to look at people and see the person.  You see the color.  To quote the words of a very smart man “I’m not going to spend my life being a color.”  You go right ahead though. 

    • Guest

      By not looking at the color of a person you’re also overlooking and dismissing their culture. Seeing the person is great, but dont do it to the point where you begin to overlook the struggle they may have gone through because of their color, or the elements that makes them the person you see.

    • Anonymous

      G-Sloan,
      You totally missed the point!
      You are making it sound like black people have it great and they are complaining, but this is where we are after colored Purple.  A movie such as Red Tails shouldn’t have problems with studios 1) it is a great American Story 2) it is a story of triumph for A.As.

      I would go see the movie with Zoe Saldana and Brian White, so why we never heard anything of this movie?  Back to the point Roland is making, Studios are afraid that whites will not see the movie and they will lose money.  My point is that if you don’t show white people that blacks and other ethnicities are normal people just like them, then it will always be a lack movie or Asian movie. 

      I enjoy my foreign (Korean, Chinese, Israeli, etc) films and “black” films on netflix and it is darn good!  Sadly it is white America that is losing out, they continuously get to see blacks in stereotypical roles, and miss out on the true rounded cultural black experience.

    • Klf

      You don’t understand the anger? While “The Color Purple” was nominated for 11 awards (including Best Picture), it did not win ONE SINGLE award. NOT ONE!  We are not in a post-racial society, and Hollywood is teeming with racism, the evidence being you only win an Oscar if you’re a prostitute (Halle Berry; Monster’s Ball), rogue cop (Denzel Washington; Training Day) Uncle Tom (Morgan Freeman; Driving Miss Daisy) or Mammy  (Hattie McDaniel; Gone With the Wind).  I would like to see a person of color win an Oscar for a non-stereotypical role (Gordon Gecko-type) and for directing a film. Better yet, a person of color at the helm of a major studio.

    • Well that’s good that you see people and not the color but unfortunately w. don’t live in that world. How is Roland Martin a racist, he’s just telling it like it is. I wish we lived in a world where there was no hate and people just saw each other based on the content of their character but we don’t live in that world.

    • Well that’s good that you see people and not the color but unfortunately w. don’t live in that world. How is Roland Martin a racist, he’s just telling it like it is. I wish we lived in a world where there was no hate and people just saw each other based on the content of their character but we don’t live in that world.

  • Mr. Martin’s commentary is totally on point. And here’s another perspective to consider. While there is this big push for folks to go out and support the movie the first weekend of release especially to “show Hollywood” that Black folks will support serious Black-themed films, I for one am more concerned that the message is elevated that we want to see opportunity for Blacks to also be at the helm of these projects especially as producers, directors, screenwriters, talent et. al. In insuring that, not only are these wonderful stories told, folks have the opportunity to actually work in their craft and truly have a seat at the “greenlight” table. Recently we saw film “The Help” do over $100MM in total boxoffice. Conventional wisdom would suggest that film’s studio bosses would be interested in greenlighting more diversity in the film industry. So as George Lucas will be doing, we too will be watching box office reswults for “Red Tails” real closely too; and see what gets reinvested to increase the pesence of blacks at all evels in the film industry.

  • Mr. Martin’s commentary is totally on point. And here’s another perspective to consider. While there is this big push for folks to go out and support the movie the first weekend of release especially to “show Hollywood” that Black folks will support serious Black-themed films, I for one am more concerned that the message is elevated that we want to see opportunity for Blacks to also be at the helm of these projects especially as producers, directors, screenwriters, talent et. al. In insuring that, not only are these wonderful stories told, folks have the opportunity to actually work in their craft and truly have a seat at the “greenlight” table. Recently we saw film “The Help” do over $100MM in total boxoffice. Conventional wisdom would suggest that film’s studio bosses would be interested in greenlighting more diversity in the film industry. So as George Lucas will be doing, we too will be watching box office reswults for “Red Tails” real closely too; and see what gets reinvested to increase the pesence of blacks at all evels in the film industry.

  • Anonymous

    What you’ve failed to add to that list, or overlooked, is that whites just LOVE our beautiful black men and women when it comes to sex. Otherwise, we’re not worth the attention.

    • PEACE

      YOU ARE A VERY CONTRADICTING CANINE. EVEN THAT IS TO GOOD TO CALL YOU. I HOPE SOME ONE GIVE YOU RIGor
      MORTIS ….MARTIS

  • Anonymous

    What you’ve failed to add to that list, or overlooked, is that whites just LOVE our beautiful black men and women when it comes to sex. Otherwise, we’re not worth the attention.

  • Anonymous

    What you’ve failed to add to that list, or overlooked, is that whites just LOVE our beautiful black men and women when it comes to sex. Otherwise, we’re not worth the attention.

  • Miki

    And amazingly not a single one of you mentioned the fact that Black women were completely eliminated from this movie, replaced by a white woman, and written out of history by two Black male writers, John Ridley and Aaron McGruder. The Black communities hatred of Black women is unbelievable. If this movie was not about Black women, it wasnt about white women either. The Black male racist has risen, hating Black women, and is alive and well in the Black community. Unfortunate.

  • Miki

    And amazingly not a single one of you mentioned the fact that Black women were completely eliminated from this movie, replaced by a white woman, and written out of history by two Black male writers, John Ridley and Aaron McGruder. The Black communities hatred of Black women is unbelievable. If this movie was not about Black women, it wasnt about white women either. The Black male racist has risen, hating Black women, and is alive and well in the Black community. Unfortunate.

  • Miki

    And amazingly not a single one of you mentioned the fact that Black women were completely eliminated from this movie, replaced by a white woman, and written out of history by two Black male writers, John Ridley and Aaron McGruder. The Black communities hatred of Black women is unbelievable. If this movie was not about Black women, it wasnt about white women either. The Black male racist has risen, hating Black women, and is alive and well in the Black community. Unfortunate.