Red Tails is Not Proof that Hollywood is Anti-American

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Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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51 Responses

  1. Avatar greginak
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    says:

    +1

    I think what the response from the BG types would be that conservatives want to see more patriotic stuff so  Hollywood isn’t serving them what they want. Therefore Hwood is wrong and since conservatives are the hidden majority or some such thing it must be a conspiracy.Report

  2. Avatar Teacher
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    I also think that Lucas underplays just how much money he spends on a movie compared to what he makes these days.  He’s becoming known for being a Huge Budget/ Modest Ticket kind of film maker.  Of course it’s a lot easier for him to accuse people of being racist than it is admit that he spent WAY too much money on Star Wars 1-3

     Report

  3. Avatar Will Truman
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    What Toto and Big Government fail to understand is that Hollywood doesn’t tell moviegoers what to watch; moviegoers tell Hollywood what kind of movies to make. Ironman 2 was not created to advance some secret pro-cyborg agenda; it was made because Ironman made buckets of money.

    Having debated a related subject for a good part of Thursday, I’m not going to get into it (too much!). I will say, however, that this portion depends on what we’re talking about.

    The public was not clamoring for one anti-war movie after another in the aughts, but Hollywood made them anyway. It’s not crazy to think that there might be movies with an audience that Hollywood has not explored. Hollywood is far from perfect at figuring out what audiences want, or that they don’t sometimes attribute movies that they would like to see to the public at large, or that they will take a chance on something that excites them rather than something that might be derided as jingoistic or something negative.

    That being said, when it comes to movies like Red Tail or Iron Man 2? They do know the formula. And when they do find a formula that works, they will bleed it dry.

    So I ain’t saying that BG isn’t full of it. But Hollywood as the perfect capitalist machine doesn’t work for me, either.Report

  4. Avatar Katherine
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    The Iron Man films basically being “Dick Cheney in a power suit” (okay, Stark felt bad about being a weapons dealer, but that was specifically because his weapons were being used to kill Americans; selling to the US government so they can kill foreigners isn’t the issue for him) also tells against their claims of Hollywood’s anti-conservative bias.

    Still, departing from the topic of pro-war movies (of which there are no shortage), I actually would like to see more romance movies where the protagonists had more in the way of moral standards, and more good comedies that had humour that wasn’t based on obscenity and crassness.  While “chick flicks” become more like “guy flicks” (e.g., Bridesmaids) probably does indicate some kind of advance in terms of women’s equality, it narrows the market for people like me who aren’t much into the “guy flick” market, and who would prefer if equality didn’t equate to adopting the worst parts of stereotypical male culture.

    Gah.  Kind of departed from the topic there.  Sorry for the rant.Report

  5. Avatar James Hanley
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    First of all, Toto creates the straw man

    Whoa, Hollywood really messed up the Wizard of Oz remake, huh?Report

  6. Avatar BlaiseP
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    Are war movies necessarily patriotic?   Red Tails seems to be about how war can shake up society’s stereotypes.  Wars have a tendency to do exactly that.   The Tuskegee Airmen, like the Civil War soldiers in Glory, proved they could fight as well as anyone, given the chance.

    George Lucas has been considering making a movie about the Red Tails since the late 80s.   It’s his money so he made the movie he wanted to make.   This isn’t about patriotism, that’s all so much fatuous crapola from Toto.   It’s just a good story about brave men, simply and directly told.

    Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
    Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
    A lonely impulse of delight
    Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
    I balanced all, brought all to mind,
    The years to come seemed waste of breath,
    A waste of breath the years behind
    In balance with this life, this death.Report

  7. Avatar Murali
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    Wait, aren’t there lots of movies with a black main cast? (i.e. most movies with Vivica A Fox in them)Report

    • Avatar greginak in reply to Murali
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      In general the movies with all black leads are aimed at the black market they aren’t marketed ( ie big enough ad budget for a national campaign,  put in large numbers of theaters all around the country) for wide spread release. Red Tails is aimed at a wide release and hoping for big bucks.

      The movies HW really wants are mega blockbusters. So they aim for maxi glitz/fx and safe. They don’t want controversial, they want movies that are events, which sell toys, video game tie ins and every other damn thing. Comic books and fx riddled epics are where it is at.Report

    • Avatar Mumbles in reply to Murali
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      Not really. Obviously, there are folks like Spike Lee or Tyler Perry, and I think each of them has their niche – Lee brings out the angry crowd, and Perry the black Christian women. And yes, there are people like Will Smith or Samual Jackson. I really can’t think of a major movie that had a mostly black cast in recent years, aside from American Gangster.

      But the issue with Red Tails was (as I understand – please note that I haven’t seen it) that it’s main cast was entirely black, as in, the white love interest is a minor role, as are the white soldiers. Compare that to, say, Men in Black. And Lucas is hardly the first person to note this – Tyler Perry cannot get support from Hollywood, despite his movies making a lot of money. And a lot of black filmmakers, podcasters, and so forth have openly discussed how they can’t get any support because they don’t fit a very specific role.Report

      • Avatar BSK in reply to Mumbles
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        I attended a workshop on this very topic, and the speaker discussed the 8 roles that black people were allowed to play in major motion pictures.  There are rare exceptions (Smith, Jackson to an extent) who can break these molds but, otherwise, even when they are featured characters, actors of color are still often typecast.  They rarely get the “full flesh” treatment that white characters do.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BSK
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          Wouldn’t you say cable outfits like HBO and Showtime are making some headway breaking some of these molds?Report

          • Avatar BSK in reply to BlaiseP
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            Without knowing a ton about either networks’ offerings, it would be hard to say.  What little I do know would make me point towards yes.  However, film and TV are different mediums and monetize differently.

            The speaker’s larger point was not so much about fairness or equity in Hollywood.  Rather, when we still live in a highly segregated society, there are lots of folks for whom Hollywood is the sole if not primary source of information for them about people of color.  When characters of color are not fleshed out or nuanced, it is easier to see them as less than human and easier to dismiss them from society, much in the same way they are easily dismissed from movies (the whole “Black guy always dying first” meme).  I don’t know if we can necessarily make that leap, but it was an interesting perspective and it is reasonable to assume that people are naturally going to  develop opinions and feelings based on the information presented to them and, if the primary source of information on a give topic is Hollywood, people will develop opinions and feelings about that topic (i.e., people of color) based on Hollywood.  Which is a tad troubling.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BSK
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              BET and TV One have arisen to serve the black audience.   They don’t appear particularly interested in serving a white demographic.Report

              • Avatar BSK in reply to BlaiseP
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                So NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX, MTV, VH1, Bravo, Food Network, etc, etc, etc are explicitly intended for the white audience?  If that is the case, that is all fine and good, just acknowledge that.  But don’t pretend to be a channel for ALL audiences when you’re not.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BSK
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                One does not imply the other and such is not the case.  I’m making another point entirely:  cable is highly segmented and has given rise to channels geared to black people.

                Who’s pretending anything?  Hard to hide a lack of something.  Cable makes it even harder to hide something:  here’s an entertainment venue explicitly geared to small market segments.   I’m with you, believe me, I’m the guy who stirred the pot and said he found  the concept of race an ugly artifact of bygone times.

                It’s a standard liberal shibboleth to point out how White Culture gives Black Culture the cold shoulder and treats it with either benign neglect or the Eight Standard Roles for People of Color.   Well, BSK, I think that charge now applies along both vectors.  You’re not exactly countering my observation that BET doesn’t appear to be particularly interested in serving a white demographic.

                The old stalwarts of broadcast television, NBC, ABC, CBS and the somewhat newer stalwarts, Fox and the like —  are now on hard times, trying to recapitulate  the successes of old when the only black people on television were Sanford and Son and the Jeffersons and the Cosbys.  If those Old Stalwarts had any sense, they’d be nurturing good writers who could incorporate a wider spectrum of America into their lineups, they might get better share numbers.

                One of the funniest writers I know, ( who did the rewrites for Red Tails ) Aaron McGruder of Boondocks, has an ongoing feud with BET.   He wrote some scathingly funny stuff about BET, The Uncle Ruckus Reality Show is probably the funniest bit of television I’ve ever seen but it won’t get on air here in the USA because Cartoon Channel is afraid of getting sued by Viacom.

                What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.  As Mumbles notes below, BET is Embarrassing Television.Report

              • Avatar Mumbles in reply to BlaiseP
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                I haven’t watched much of TV One, but BET is a part of the problem – thus their nickname “Black Embarrassing Television”.  I’ve heard a number of rappers, comics, and the like discussing how they were looked at by the network, but passed over for being “the wrong type” or “too intelligent”, and people critisize the small amount of original programming they make for being dumbed down.  Also, BET is owned by Viacom, so they’re subject to much of the same type of thinking as the rest of the major industry.Report

  8. Avatar The Reason
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    While my thoughts are off-topic from Mr. Kelly’s main point, while reading this post I did find myself considering some things I rarely think about. I’m as guilty as anyone of turning off my analytical mind to enjoy the grasp of an intriguing story line as it pulls down the pathway of dramatic indulgence . It’s interesting to consider that Hollywood was hesitant to fund an all-black cast. As progressive as our trend-setting movie makers are supposed to be, the money pulls back from setting stories within the confines of anything but their pasty white gold.

    Of all the cultures and story lines throughout American history we see nearly all of it on the silver screen with a halo of white blanketing it like new fallen snow.

    One story that has somehow been marginalized as movie content is the Japanese American struggles during WWII. Internment coupled with the 442 would likely make for a phenomenal story to bring to the empty heads of movie goers if produced by the biggest dollar, but when is the last time you saw a movie about a bunch of Asian people who speak English without a heavy accent? It’s hard to stereotype an Asian-American because they’re not foreign enough to make audiences comfortable.

    As for patriotism…Kate Beckinsale was chosen as the female lead for THE American war story: Pearl Harbor. She’s British! The conspiracy thickens.

    TRReport

  9. Avatar Kolohe
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    What Big [*.*] also fails to recognize is that ‘Hollywood’ only makes two types of movies these days; those aimed at 14 year old boys*, and those aimed at Oscar voters.  These days, however, there are plenty of other venues for those who want to break that mold (in any different way they wish).

    *and those with the heart of 14 year old boys, e.g. 26 year old Maxim readers.Report

  10. Avatar Brion Emde
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    “The Lord of the Rings” is surely a conservative book, in the old sense of the term; conserving and remembering the old ways of life.

    That’s why the films lost so much by not including “The Scouring the the Shire”. That chapter, with the Hobbits arriving at home to a polluted, fouled, de-treed authoritarian police state shows the darker side of those who hide behind conservative facades to instead cause radical changes, usually bad, to enrich themselves.

    By neglecting that, Peter Jackson passed on the chance to put societies’ collective noses right up the tailpipe of our current situation in the world, one run by Sarumans for their own benefit and looking to enslave the rest through fear and intimidation.

    It’s inexcusable, given the attention he gave to other parts of the books, to have left out the the devastation and rebuilding of the Shire, which, let’s not forget, was done by the Hobbits together. To the extent that today’s “conservatives” neglect and disparage the power of community, they are cutting their own throats

     Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Brion Emde
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      Nor did Jackson put in Tom Bombadil or Goldberry, the ancient good which cannot be corrupted by the Ring of Power.   I completely concur with your point about the Scouring of the Shire:  I’ve studied JRRT at the special collections at Marquette and come to the conclusion the Scouring of the Shire was the whole point of the series.

      Tolkien originally set up LOTR to be six books.  That we have three books is an unpleasantry arising from how the books were published.   Jackson could have made six films and even more money, had he adhered to Tolkien’s original framework.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Brion Emde
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      “Peter Jackson passed on the chance to put societies’ collective noses right up the tailpipe of our current situation in the world”

      Hobbiton didn’t exactly vote Saruman into office or start shopping at Sar’s Club.  It’s more like he rolled in with his goon squad and said “mine now”.  To the extent that the Scouring of the Shire has anything to teach us, it’s that evil people always wind up doing the same stuff, and the only differenceis the scale of the operation.

      Sure, the Scouring was the ultimate goal of the book, but I can’t think for a minute that Saruman was intended to represent modern industry, except in the most childish magical-thinking sense; “this is the picture I have of evil, and you look like that picture, therefore you’re evil”.  If you honestly must look for an analog to self-interested businessmen, I’d say it’s the dwarves you ought to look at.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to DensityDuck
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        Dunno which edition you were reading but in mine, Lotho Sackville-Baggins muscled his way into power by dint of all that money he’d made selling pipe-weed to Saruman.   Thus it is with many folks who think they’re in power:  they forget the source of their power is perfectly capable of taking that power away, as Saruman did to Lotho.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to DensityDuck
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        Dunno about you, but Mordor always seems the spitting image of Pittsburgh.

        Tolkien always claimed he hated allegory, but then again, he never understood why Americans liked his work.Report

    • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Brion Emde
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      says:

      Imagine how much easier the quest with High Speed Rail, though.Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to Brion Emde
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      I really have little patience for people who naively wish to go back to a less mechanised and less industrialised era. Pastoralism is problematic precisely because they fail to take into account the human cost such a lack of technology inflicts. Rather than an idyllic life by the countryside, farmers of yore had to eke out an existence against nature and were forever faced with the threat of starvation in case foul-ups with the weather or pests ruined a whole year’s worth of work. The life of a farmer, even though not as terrible as it would have been in the state of nature was still nasty, brutal and short.Report

      • Avatar sonmi451 in reply to Murali
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        Yup, this. And the people most often nostalgic for the days of yore aren’t usually the ones who would have to eke out an existence as a farmer. Easy to be nostalgic and romanticizing things when you’re just watching, instead of doing.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Murali
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        Murali,

        Not everywhere was russia! In russia, to institute a new farming regime (crop rotation) took guns and soldiers. Because the farmers were convinced that anything new would bring certain doom.

        Most places were fine and dandy to farm, so long as you didn’t mind rye. And even during times of famine, not all that many folk died. There was a great one during the Sun King’s reign, after all.Report

        • Avatar Murali in reply to Kim
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          Most places were fine and dandy to farm, so long as you didn’t mind rye. And even during times of famine, not all that many folk died. There was a great one during the Sun King’s reign, after all.

          If I remember my history and geography correctly, crop failures were one of the biggest killers of children. Why do you think people would try to get 8-10 children? Because all but 1-2 of them would die before adulthood.

          Not all crop failurs amounted to famines. Rice farming is crazy back breaking work which takes place in flooded fields during the growing season and dry fields during harvest. If either these two seasons are unseasonal, the crop is ruined. And wading in knee deep water all day is a recipe for the spread of infectious diseases. Given the nature of rice farming, there was usually 1 growing season a year. Rice harvested in january (in India) would have been unlikely to last the year.

          In fact, wheat farmers in britain had to resort to eating sawdust, acorn meal an ground pine-cones to substitute because wheat stores could not last the year. Not to mention that since storage methods were bad, grain was often pest ridden (weevils, rats) and this carried diseases.

           Report

          • Avatar Kim in reply to Murali
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            Acorn meal was a staple for Southwest (american) Indians. So it ain’t the “really bad sign” you think it is.

            Now, some people ate MUD! That’s called starvation food (also a decent source of minerals).

            I take your point, that my knowledge extends to what I know about, and yours covers a lot different places. My humble thanks for the shiny knowledge!

            Disease cost most kids their lives — malaria, trychinosis, whoopin’ cough, smallpox, the list goes on. Most kids died before the age of 5 — after that you were generally fine, unless you got beat to death (as was sorta traditional someplaces — if you weren’t tough enough you deserved to die).Report

  11. Avatar Steve S.
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    Aren’t most of the big Hollywood blockbusters conservative to begin with?  Filthy rich entrepreneur  becomes superhero/invents superwonderful machine, kicks ass?  Pro-western spy drives car really fast, shags birds, kicks ass?  Stuff blowing up left and right followed by ass-kicking, that’s a conservative thing, isn’t it?  Conservatives are already way over their movie quota, aren’t they?Report

  12. Avatar dexter
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    In case anybody is interested I just saw the movie and will say that the dialogue is not as bad as the reviews and the explosions were not as good as I expected.  It is not a great movie, but I would recommend it.  I did care about the characters and will admit that more than once I had tears on my cheeks. 

    For years I have complained about being called white.  I am not white.  David Dukes sheets are white and if you see the movie you might never think of Africans as people of color again though you might think of Europeans as colored.  I won’t say more because I don’t want to give away the funniest line in the movie.Report

  13. Avatar Rufus F.
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    There’s no mystery there; there’s no conspiracy. It’s just the free market at work in the very best sense of that ideal.

    Here’s where I agree with you: just in comparing Hollywood to any government funded film program in the world, like the one we have in Canada. The Hollywood product kicks the state-funded product’s ass around the block. It’s one of the best arguments I know for the free market.

    Here’s where I disagree with you: Hollywood producers seem to be uniquely able to focus heavily on making the sorts of movies that they think people want to see and still have no fishing idea what people want to see! How often do we see hit movies come out that “nobody in Hollywood wanted to make”? Or, even worse, look at how many “demographics” get largely ignored by Hollywood? You mentioned the drunk bridesmaids movie- you must remember the big push on Facebook to get people to go see the movie in order to “prove to Hollywood” that it’s actually “economically viable” to make movies aimed at women, who aren’t exactly a minority group! Next time you’re at the multiplex, check out how many films there are made for young males between the ages of 12 and 24 or so and how few are aimed at anyone else. It reminds me of the years back when the big three automakers virtually abandoned the idea of making anything but SUVs ’cause those were selling like mad and the rest of us could go buy economical cars from Japan. Remember how well that went for them?Report

  14. Avatar Kim
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    Da hell? Most movies get made for Tax Writeoffs. Most movies suck because of dis. Thought everyone knew dat!Report

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