01/24/2012 05:51 pm ET Updated Mar 25, 2012

How Red Tails Can Inform Us If We Are Truly Post Racial

If famed Star Wars film director, George Lucas, is correct, America may not be the post-racial society that many wish to believe.

According to Lucas, it took 20 years to get his latest film, Red Tails, made "because it's an all-black movie."

Lucas said he had to self-fund Red Tails, the true story of the Tuskegee Airmen -- a group of African-American pilots who fought in World War II. He claimed major film studios would not back the movie because "there are no major white roles in it at all."

More than a critique that counters the stereotype held for so-called liberal Hollywood elites, Lucas' 20-year odyssey to get Red Tails on the screen says more about what film studios think of their buying public.

There has always been room in Hollywood for films such as Gone With the Wind to, most recently, The Help -- movies that show a certain racial benevolence but maintain the preconceived social order. Moreover, both films were highly successful financially.

But far fewer movies have been made that depict African Americans as the sole protagonists that were not over-the-top comedies or the Blaxploitation films of the 1970s.

What's clear, film studios made a dispassionate business decision not to underwrite Red Tails because, in their view, it would not attract audiences. But that reality could be true without having anything to do with race.

Storyline, star power, marketing and budget, are all variables that go into making a successful movie.

Assuming momentarily that Red Tails has all the pieces to be a success, then its failure at the box office would mean it has been neatly compartmentalized by the public as a movie about African Americans, worthy only of African American viewing.

If the latter were true, it would indeed be a tragedy because it would suggest that we remain stuck in the arrested development of race.

The story of the Tuskegee Airmen is quintessentially American. It is one of valor and an unquenchable desire to demonstrate one's patriotism. It is also a tale of racism that recalled the words of the 19th century orator and abolitionist Henry Highland Garnet that "The Pharaoh's are on both sides of the blood-red waters."

The Tuskegee Airmen story is also a reminder of the tragic reality that post WWII America, in many cases, treated Nazi prisoners of war better than the returning black soldiers who were part of the "greatest generation."

Moreover, it was President Harry Truman's executive order 9981 in 1948 to desegregate the military that contributed to Strom Thurmond's third-party presidential run under the State's Rights Democratic Party.

What may lie at the foundation of this dilemma is the collective desire to view African-American history as an inferior adjunct. I understand the historical reasons that have led to this dilemma.

And without the groundbreaking work of Carter G. Woodson that originated "Negro History Week" in 1926 the contributions of African Americans would likely be ignored.

But isn't African American history part of American history?

It's quite possible film studios were correct in that the public would not see a movie because "there are no major white roles in it at all." That would suggest there is also a racial quotient necessary for film success.

Maybe Red Tails will be a flop simply because it's a bad movie. But if its failure is due to the reasons the film studios gave Lucas, could we not conclude that our vaunted claims of being post racial are nothing more than the musings of those unwilling to see a story that reveals an uncomfortable truth -- even if it is one that tells a great American story?

Byron Williams is an Oakland pastor and syndicated columnist. He is the author of the Forthcoming book: '1963: The of Hope and Hostility.' Email him at or visit the website