Could ‘Red Tails’ Turn George Lucas Into Tyler Perry?

The Times Magazine’s profile of George Lucas is very interesting, particularly in its description of how his long-term girlfriend, Mellody Hobson, or as Al Sharpton calls her, “black America’s business princess,” has transmitted Lucas’s dedication to racial equality and channeled it more directly into politics, whether calling Obama a Jedi or showing up for the White House Correspondents Association Dinner. And it captures his determination to make Red Tails a truly black movie (he’s joked about Spike Lee making a prequel to it):

“They say, Now, who are you making this for?”

“I’m making it for black teenagers.”…

“And you’re going to be very patriotic — you’re making a black movie that’s patriotic?”

“They have a right to have their history just like anybody else does,” Lucas said. “And they have a right to have it kind of Hollywood-ized and aggrandized and made corny and wonderful just like anybody else does. Even if that’s not the fashion right now.” […]

To execute his popcorn vision of “Red Tails,” Lucas turned to Anthony Hemingway, a 36-year-old director who made his name on TV shows like “The Wire.” Hemingway, who had never directed a feature film, comes from the church of David Simon, which values moral murkiness over naïveté, documentary detail about East Baltimore over an ethnography of the Ewok village. It was like hiring a “Hill Street Blues” veteran to direct “Return of the Jedi.”

But from the beginning, Lucas wanted “Red Tails” to have a black director. “I thought, This is the proper way to do this,” he said. Indeed, to scan the credits in “Red Tails” is to see Lucas’s fidelity to African-American filmmakers. There are two black writers and a black executive producer. Terence Blanchard, a Spike Lee collaborator (“Jungle Fever,” “Malcolm X”), wrote the score, and Art Sims, another Lee veteran, designed the one-sheet.

I really hope Red Tails does well not simply to disprove the idea that black leads can’t open blockbusters or that black history is a niche genre. Lucas has said that this will be his last blockbuster. So if the movie makes bank, maybe Lucas could do for black artists what Tyler Perry hasn’t entirely done yet, and what Queen Latifah still might do: spread the wealth and give a financial springboard to projects that could be commercially viable if only they could find financing and support, and an imprimatur that would reassure distributors. The battle might be to get individual non-white (or for that matter, female) writers and directors credentialed and established. But the war is about getting a lot of them in the game.