I think it’s safe to say George Lucas has not produced a movie outside the “Star Wars” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” series since the late 80s. He certainly wasn’t as fully invested emotionally as he is in “Red Tails,” which premiered last night at the Ziegfeld. Or financially. Lacking funding from a studio, he put $60 million of his own money into the project. Fox, his “Star Wars” studio, is distributing it. Jon Bon Jovi, Spike and Tonya Lee, Mayor Mike Bloomberg, former senator and famed basketball player Bill Bradley were just some of the luminaries who turned out to support this effort, the story of the Tuskegee Airmen.
Lucas reportedly had to re-cut and re-shoot a lot of the film after it didn’t quite work out with first time director Anthony Hemingway. This may be why it took so long to get the film onto screens. It’s been in production since at least 2008. The film stars Terrence Howard, Cuba Gooding Jr., Nate Parker, and David Oyelowo who head a mostly African American cast. (Bryan Cranston and Lee Tergesen are sort of in cameos.)
In the end, Lucas was driven to tell the story of the forgotten courageous black World War II pilots who have had to for recognition and to keep their places in history. It’s hard to say how the movie will do when it reaches the public next Friday, the 20th; it’s a history lesson mixed with terrific computer generated graphics of air born dogfights.
But last night’s audience, composed largely of the Airmen families and friends, and their extended network, absolutely loved it. Several of the living Airmen were on hand, as well, and got a standing ovation at the end of the screening. And that was extremely moving, to see them rewarded after almost 70 years.
Lucas not only produced (and wrote and sort of directed) “Red Tails,” but he also made a documentary about the Airmen called “Double Victory.” which airs on cable TV beginning January 15th.
More on “Red Tails” next week…