Sunday, January 22, 2012
As many know, the first weekend that a movie opens is the most critical in terms of demonstrating the value (i.e. money making capacity) of a film to those who fund their production. Don't think it applies necessarily to RedTails, the movie of the Tuskegee Air Men who fought to fight in World War II, made by John Lucas and rejected altogether by Hollywood. I went to see it this weekend anyway.
There were no TV ads about the film. Did radio stations catering to Black people advertise it? I can't say. Emails about it were akin to drumming in generations past -- putting out the word. The theatre was far from full, but not as empty as I have seen it for other noteworthy films about people of African descent that weren't about street life. Today, the day after seeing it I got an encouraging report from my dear friend Valerie, an accomplished writer, valeriewilsonwesley.com that Red Tails was #2 at the box office. Never underestimate the drum!
Black men dominated the cast, apparently a part of the problem for Hollywood. Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding were the brothers I recognized and Terrence Howard was blazing on point. The younger men, whose characters came to life, had faces I've barely or never seen. I could feel them as sons -- raring to go, anxious to display their competency in war, as men, as Black men. It saddens me that war has been a proving ground for many. But then there are many arenas in which Black men and women, 'Firsts,' have risked their lives. The camaraderie among the men in the film was funny and tender, and I cannot imagine the pressure that they and others breaking the color barrier have carried. The pressure of representing the goodness of the race, the pressure to be outstanding and composed in the face of hecklers, doubters, spitters. We stand on the shoulders of so many audacious, brave, and talented people. We cannot fail to carry on in good faith and effort towards enriching the legacy we've been handed, woven with sweat, laughter, blood, creativity, and love, making it more beautiful than we found it, widening its' reach for those coming behind us. So often I find that it is remembering what we know that matters. So much competes for the front row of our attention, and then there is some wisdom we don't even know we have. It is so deep it hasn't been articulated, or it's not so deep, we simply haven't turned inward to ask for it to speak.
There are so many ways to remember things, but art has to be among the best!
The film also reminded me of how seminal Tuskegee was in African-American history, the site that gave birth not only to first Black pilots but also to the 1881 founding of a college by Booker T. Washington and to the innovative research of George Washington Carver.
Finally, seeing Red Tails also made me think back to Valerie's father, Bert Wilson, a tall slender, light-hearted man with exquisite taste, a Tuskegee airman. Growing up I was in his presence time and again and never felt the weight of what he endured as a Black pilot in the 1940's. I hadn't met Valerie then, who was away at college, but her sister Pat and I were close friends. Looking back, I wish I had thanked him, acknowledged him as more than my girlfriend's father, but I take joy in remembering him as a man who loved fine wine, a good swim, and the speed of a Porsche, and most of all, a man alive with his ever lit humor.