Hollywood on Producing Black Films

The political and economical reality according to filmmaker George Lucas

African American filmmakers and other prominent figures should establish a distribution system to market black films across the globe. Hollywood admits that even with an Academy Award winning name like Cuba Gooding Jr. they still don't know how to market black films, according to filmmaker George Lucas, director of "Star Wars". In a recent interview with Jon Stewart on the Daily Show, Lucas appeared as a guest promoting his new film "Red Tail", a story about the African American World War II heroes, the Tuskegee Airmen. With an all African American cast starring Cuba Gooding Jr. with R&B singer and song writer Neo, this is a Lucas film 23 years in the making and personally financed. Lucas laid out the political and economical views of the Hollywood Movie system in regards to the production and distribution of black films. He stated that he wanted to make an inspirational film for teenage boys and highlight the African American patriots that helped to make this country what it is today.

The troubling part of this interview was Lucas's story about getting the film distributed. He admits that all of the studios turned it down and expressed views that they didn't know how to market a film like this (Red Tail) because it had no 'green' in it. What did they mean by this? That there is no money in it or the fact that there were no major lead roles with white actors and therefore that no real money can be made? Lucas stated that the studios even refused to release Tyler Perry movies and referred to them as being' low budget films handled by a lower level distribution system'. He said that films like Perry's actually do pretty well but the major studios don't touch them. He said "Red Tail" actually cost him more money to make than what a Perry film earns in box office revenues. The studios believe there's no foreign market for it and that relates to 60% of their profit. Lucas said that "Red Tail" is one of the first all black action pictures ever made. This is incorrect because there are many all black action pictures that have been produced, especially some of the black exploitation films of the 1970s that starred black actors, however Hollywood just didn't embrace them. There are many that exist today that just don't make it to the big screen.

In the interview, Jon Stewart jokingly asked Lucas "Now, the scene in it when Hitler tells Cuba Gooding Jr. that he's his father?". The audience burst into laughter. Well, what are you actually saying Jon? Maybe lines like this are the real reason Hollywood don't know how to market black films. George Lucas said of the Tuskegee Airmen, "They are the true heroes of World War II" and also expressed that those who are still alive showed great emotion, came up to him with tears in their eyes, thanking him for making a film that finally recognized them.

The reality of telling our stories with integrity and depth and getting them to market is falling on the shoulders of the independent filmmakers producing them. Most black filmmakers go into debt and bankruptcy because they believe that their stories have substance, a great purpose and markets waiting to embrace them, even when Hollywood fails them. Black business owners have a responsibility, and should not only take from the consumer but give back, which most of them do. Black businesses should start supporting, sponsoring and financing African American films like never before. They will make a great contribution towards educating African Americans as well as many other ethnic groups who are clueless to the depths of the real African American experience.

I believe that there is a foreign market for African American films and those in Hollywood are just not interested in telling those stories. You know what? That's OK because the stories they do decide to tell, they seem to tell upside down anyway. If there were no foreign market for black films then why did Viacom spend 3 Billion dollars to acquire (BET) Black Entertainment Television Holdings in 2001? At the time of the BET purchase, the programming was airing in approximately 62 million African American households and watched across 14 countries. Somebody is tuning into the black experience via television. Why would EMI Publishing pay former Motown founder Berry Gordy 132 million dollars for rights to those (Motown/Jobete publishing) oldies that did extremely well in foreign countries? It certainly looks like there's a foreign market to me.

Recently Damon Diddit and Natural Langdon, independent African American filmmakers from Brownsville Brooklyn in New York City, produced a film depicting the realities of life in their community called "Bullets over Brownsville" and were invited to Berlin, Germany where the movie screened at a film festival. They also produced a reality program of that experience called the "Unglamorous Life of Filmmaking. Now, it certainly looks like there's a foreign market to me. It's very strange that George Lucas would speak out openly about the Hollywood movie system and their views when they pay him millions to make films. I wonder; is this a publicity stunt designed to get blacks into the theaters on January 20, 2012?

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