Red Tails-A Review
I’ve been meaning to put this out for a couple of days now, but with the site redesign and all the changes I just totally forgot about it. Well here it is…
I saw Red Tails last week. I wanted to love it. I really did. I wanted to like it as much as other war epics like “Saving Private Ryan” or recent quasi-historical films like “Inglourious Basterds” but, perhaps predictably, it was more akin to Miracle at St Anna than Letters from Iwo Jima. I left the theater full of pride and happiness about my people and the events portrayed in the film, but it took me a while to extricate my thoughts about the subject matter from the actually content and quality of the film. I think that’s a problem that mirrors the problem besetting our perception of “Black” cinemas as a whole.
I’ll start with the good things. First of all, like I said, the movie did spread knowledge about a very important piece of this country’s history. In some way, it was really good that this story was told to a wide audience, even if it was through a very flawed vessel. Also, the special effects were stunning, as you would expect from a Lucasfilm. Those were some of the best dogfights and aerial fight scenes I’ve ever seen. Honestly I might have enjoyed it more if the whole thing was just dogfights with no stories or dialogue. There were some pretty good acting jobs, and as much as I HATE Terrence Howard, I think his acting was alright (although his character seems to be eternally stuck in the “motivational speech/witty quip” cliches). The guy from Great Debators was great, and as much as I hated Lightning’s character, the acting was good and the two’s friendship had some damn good chemistry.
****SPOILERS AHEAD. IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE FILM (ALTHOUGH IT’S UTTERLY PREDICTABLE) AND DON’T WANT ME TO RUIN IT STOP READING****
I also really liked the scene where Great Debators dude royally screwed up trying to help dude land. I didn’t quite get it because it was written horribly, but I actually felt something. And all in all, the movie was pleasant. There was a sense of goodness that really pervades all Lucas produced films. Heroism and all that.
and NOW FOR THE BAD THINGS
For one, the writing was absolutely shit-tastic. Everything. The dialogue, the exposition, the scene setups, the settings, EVERYTHING. From a director who wrote episodes of The Wire and the writer of the Boondocks, along with some great actors from The Wire and other good movies, I expected much much more from the movie. Where do I even begin? This plot had more holes than Lightning’s dead body at the end. First of all, they could have done a much better job with showing how racial attitudes changed. It read like a 5th grader’s play on how racism was bad or whatever. (1) White people are racist (2) Black people defied expectations (3) White people stopped being racist. It was literally THAT easy in the movie. Are we too stupid to get the nuances of racism? Even though most of us have lived in a world where we can defy expectations everyday and STILL not win? Come on, Hemingway. In general, the whole movie kinda missed out on subtlety like that and went for the most corny, obvious angles on everything. Everything was spelled out like an elementary class. I really think it’s an indictment on what people think Black folks can understand and will accept.
Just the relationship between Lightning and the Italian girl alone could fill a blog post with questions. How did he find that white girl’s house from just a wave from afar? I suppose the Black man’s “white box radar” is STRONG. How did they get married and couldn’t even speak to each other? Where was her mom during the whole thing? Is there no racism in Italy? Man that was one of the worst relationships I’ve ever seen in a serious movie. Lightning’s general convenient invincibility bothered me too. He could shirk orders and destroy entire BATTLESHIPS with just two passes of his plane and was generally unkillable, but of course died from much less challenging circumstances when the plot called for it. But come to think of it…we all knew Lightning was gonna be the one to die at like the very beginning of the movie. Also, how did he get jumped by a bar full of racists and not have so much as a papercut? How did he not get lynched? How did he not get court martialed? Everything about the very character of Lightning requires a monumental suspension of disbelief.
And let’s not get started on the acting. I could write a lot about how meh I thought the Black actors were, but all of the white Actors were a special kind of awful. The bomber crews were so terrible my theater started booing them. I’ve never heard anything like that before. How many “Look at those Red Tails! They SURE CAN FLY! We’ll be safe now!” exchanges is it reasonable to put up with? Man it felt like they were so busy finding the cast for the pilots that they just kinda…forgot to get white actors and picked them off a random soundstage. The acting was so shitty it just ended up being funny after a while.
And then there’s Ne-Yo. I have a special place of hatred in my heart for him. I don’t know what dirt he has on Hollywood directors, but the man seems hell bent on single-handedly destroying cinema one movie at a time. And he was really in top form as the lead coon/funny accent/tobacco chewing guy in Red Tails. It’s not so much that I think he can’t act, because it feels like he’s purposefully acting AWFULLY just to fuck movies up. And that’s how terrible he was. Every time I heard him speak I expected the Amos N’ Andy theme to play in the background. Man, it may have been the single worst film performance I’ve seen by someone with an actual IMDB profile. Jesus. I honestly think that if all of my other problems with the movie had been fixed, if Ne-Yo had still been in it, I would have hated it. I was openly rooting for his plane to burst into flame/be struck with a meteor/erased by the Hand of God every time they showed him. I think it was really unfair that I had to sit through that terrible dialog and plot and they couldn’t even bother to kill off this skid stain in the end.
But really I thought the bad things about Red Tails outweighed the good things. Granted, a lot of Black folks have told me that I should support it regardless because of what it means to Black film or have called me names for not liking it. I’ve even had some suggest to me that I should support things like it even if they are bad to give “Black” film a chance. And I heartily disagree. I shouldn’t have to feel obligated to support “Black” things that suck just because I’m black. People are taking solidarity a bit too far. And if we really wanted to show the world that we were more than Tyler Perry, there was a GREAT Black film by the name of Pariah that played during the same time. It may not have gotten the push that Red Tails got from Lucas, but it was about 20 times as good. If we really had wanted to make a statement, we should have protested for theaters to open it up to a wider release. Because what we got was little more than Tyler Perry’s Madea in planes. It’s not a sin to expect more, and having high expectations of our own filmmakers is just accountability. Is having a thriving Black film industry full of SHIT actually better than a struggling striving for quality? I’d take the latter. This is #BlackExcellenceMonth….and quite simply, this film was not Excellence. It was mediocrity. We can do better, especially if people like Lucas are bankrolling.
This video pretty much sums it up:
Well…I leave you until that new Spike Lee movie comes out. Namaste.