George Lucas’ “Red Tails,” a film about a group of African-American servicemen during World War II called the Tuskegee Airmen, raked in an impressive $19.1 million at the box office this weekend.
But making the movie wasn’t an easy feat. In fact, it has taken the “Star Wars” creator an astounding 23 years to complete.
“It was designed to be a film during the war. It’s very patriotic…very old fashioned, corny. It’s just exactly like ‘Flying Leathernecks,’ only this one was held up for release from 1942 when it was shot and I’ve been trying to get it released ever since,” Lucas joked in an interview with Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show.”
The director’s major roadblock was finding a studio to market a predominantly black film.
“We finished it, I financed it myself and I figured I could get the prints and ads paid for by the studios and that they would release it,” he said. “I showed it to all of them and they said ‘No, we don’t know how to market a movie like this.”
“It’s because it’s an all-black movie, there’s no major white roles in it at all. It’s one of the first all-black action pictures ever made,” Lucas added.
“Normally black movies, like Tyler Perry movies or something, they’re very low budget. They won’t even release his movies; it goes to one of the lower, not major distributors. They do well, but they do a certain amount of money and they know what that is,” he revealed.
“This costs more than what those movies make. They don’t believe there is any foreign market for it and that’s 60 percent of their profit.”
After being turned down by every major studio, Lucas put up $58 million out of his own pocket to get the film made.
“The reason I did it…I wanted to make an inspirational [film] for teenage boys. I wanted to show that they have heroes, that there are real American heroes, patriots that helped make the country what it is today. And it’s not ‘Glory’ where you have a lot of white officers running these guys into cannon fire. They were real heroes.”
Lucas worked with some of the real fighters during the creation of the project, many of whom died before the film was completed.
“We started with about 40 and now we’re down to seven,” Lucas revealed, adding that pleasing the actual Tuskegee Airmen was one of his greatest challenges.
“I was worried because they were there, they did it, and [they said] ‘Don’t forget to include this, don’t forget to include that.’”
The final product stirred up an emotional response in the long-ignored World War II fighters.
“They are definitely, you know, tears in the eyes. They are overwhelmed because they have been waiting so long to be recognized. Most people don’t know who they are. They are really true heroes,” Lucas said. “We have had bomber pilots see the film and they tear up and say ‘Those guys saved my life…they’re the true heroes of WWII.’”
The incredible amount of story content also posed another challenge for Lucas.
“It’s exactly like ‘Star Wars.’ I wrote the first script, I tried to get it to work. It was way too big; the story was too fantastic and wonderful to cram into two hours.” he said. “This is as close as you’ll ever get to ‘Episode Seven.’”
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