'Red Tails' Draws $20 Million on Opening Weekend

Barrington M. Salmon | 1/24/2012, 1:01 p.m.

New Generation Learns About Tuskegee Airmen

George Lucas' movie Red Tails, defied conventional wisdom and diminished expectations to take in the second highest haul this past weekend.

The film depicts the exploits of the Tuskegee Airmen - American's first black fighter pilots who fought with bravery and distinction in World War II. The movie brought in $19.1 million, second only to Underworld Awakening which raked in $25.4 million.

Lucas, who was Red Tails' executive producer, had hoped the movie opening would produce blockbuster numbers and vindicate the movie in the eyes of critics who suggest that a film with an all-black cast is box-office poison. He invested $58 million of his own money to make and distribute the film and explained on The Daily Show hosted by Jon Stewart, that no Hollywood studio would produce the movie.

"I showed it to them and they said, 'No. We don't know how to market a movie like this," Lucas said. "... Red Tails does not feature a white protagonist. 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..."

While a number of critics panned the movie - which took Lucas 23 years to make - moviegoers like District resident Leo Alexander said he loved what he saw.

"The movie was very well done," said the 47-year-old global marketing and sales executive. "The beginning was a little too slow and not serious enough for my taste. There was too much giggling and laughing for me. But overall, I enjoyed it."

Alexander, a Ward 4 resident, said one of the highlights of his family's trip to the downtown Silver Spring movie theater was meeting some Tuskegee Airmen.

"I met three real life 'Red Tails' and I have never been in any other setting and felt such awe, admiration and pride -- these brothers are giants," Alexander said. "My sons are too young to truly comprehend the significance of meeting these three warriors, but I know who they are. I've heard of their legend and now I've seen their story on the big screen."

"We met them and took pictures. It was a hell of an experience. They are approaching their '90s, looked great, looked sharp. I can only imagine what they went through in the '40s to put their lives on the line but lived in the U.S. as 2nd class citizens. I told my wife I couldn't have done it. To her credit, she said that they were doing it for the future. If that was me, I would have to remind myself of that every day."

In the weeks leading up to the movie's release, the Internet, Facebook and other social media, the press and elsewhere buzzed with discussion about the film, it's merits, the state of black cinema and the tastes of black and white America.

Columnist, critic and media personality Bomani Jones wrote that "if every black person in America goes to see Red Tails, there will not be a long line of big-budget black movies hitting theaters near you."