January 19, 2012
Dear Mr. George Lucas,
On behalf of our country’s unheralded brigade of black actors, writers and filmmakers, I salute you.
I thank you for fighting tooth and nail to bring Red Tails to theaters across the country on Friday, January 20th. Your financial commitment and personal dedication to the inspiring story of the Tuskegee Airmen has not gone without notice. It is a celebration of American heroism that is long overdue.
Mr. Lucas, I must tell you that your recent comments on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart are greatly appreciated. It was a brave and bold stance that was likely motivated by years of frustration. It is clear that you have experienced an unfortunate journey that all too many African-American filmmakers have had to contend with for decades.
Making movies is exceedingly difficult regardless of the ethnicity of those in front of or behind the camera. Unfortunately, these obstacles are magnified when the primary collaborators of a project happen to be black. As you mentioned, no matter how compelling these stories may be, many of these films are tagged as “not marketable” before they even get to see the light of day. Sadly, it is a constant struggle for black storytellers to overcome the fallacy that black films are simply a collection of ultra-niche, second-rate fodder.
That is why we, the black film community, are ready to step forward and show everyone what we are capable of.
History has shown that many black films are emphatically embraced. Antwone Fisher, Boyz in the Hood, Do the Right Thing, and Eve’s Bayou were all critically acclaimed and commercially successful black movies. There are numerous others that I could list. We would not have these national treasures if there were not those in the industry who recognized the potential of a great black film and fought hard to bring those projects to life.
There is always an obligation for a movie to perform economically in this business. These pressures are even greater for a project as ambitious as Red Tails. I know that you have expressed some reservations about the need for your movie to perform well on its opening weekend. I am not worried about such matters. Regardless of how many tickets are sold at the box office in the next few days, I believe that one simple truth will remain:
Red Tails will fly high.
As a black writer and director, I am currently facing a tremendous tipping point in my own life and career. I have written a feature screenplay entitled, After the Storm, about a young boy who must overcome the loss of his home and family in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It is not simply a black film; it is an emotional examination of an American tragedy that transcends race.
Believe it or not, our movie and Red Tails have quite a bit in common. You did not endeavor to make Red Tails to simply make another movie. You made it so we could celebrate the Tuskegee Airmen that put their lives on the line for a country that didn’t even want them to serve. We are not making After the Storm to simply make another movie either. We’re making it to champion the muted voices of the city of New Orleans and the people of the Gulf Coast. The script for the project has won numerous awards and the project has been featured in both Indiewire and Variety. Despite this momentum, my producers and I are still fighting very hard to get the industry to take notice. Our work is not alone either. There are dozens of black projects that are in a similar position and those films are just as deserving. If you’d like to know more about those stories or the filmmakers behind them, I’d be very happy to vouch for their work as well.
Today, our biggest task as storytellers is to show audiences that the black experience is not monolithic. The spectrum of black films is as far-ranging and wide-reaching as any other form of entertainment that is produced for a global audience. Black films are filled with as much grace, beauty, joy, and heart as the purest forms of art known to man.
Mr. Lucas, I truly hope that we are not too far from a future where black films are accepted as vehicles of entertainment that can capture the attention of an international audience regardless of their race, color, or creed. I hope that someday soon we will not have to go on television programs or write open letters to discuss the plight of black films, yellow films, red films or white films. At a time of year that we honor the work and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I believe it is now appropriate for us to begin celebrating all films for what they naturally are…
Unforgettable renditions of the remarkable journey of humanity.
Thank you for standing with us in that quest.
Colen C. Wiley – Writer | Director | Producer, After the Storm