The man behind the Star Wars and Indiana Jones [ Images ] mega hits that have grossed over $10 billion worldwide in the past four decades could not get Hollywood to invest in Red Tails, a film with an all-black cast.
So, George Lucas, 67, and still a very powerful mover in Hollywood, invested his own $60 million in the film, and $40 million on the prints and promotion.
Only then, did Fox -- the distributor of all Star Wars films -- step forward to distribute the film for a fee. The movie opens today in some 2,000 theatres in America and Canada [ Images ] and will roll out across the globe soon.
Lucas has been trying to get Red Tails made for nearly two decades. The film is about the pioneering crew of African-American pilots, who were called into action in World War II and whose heroism is not celebrated enough.
It is touted as an adrenaline pumping and heroic adventure, a black version of Top Gun. But it is also a story of a painful episode in American history. The black men fight the Nazis in the air but in their segregated bases, they have to fight humiliation and discrimination.
The film featuring Cuba Gooding Jr and Terrence Howard is directed by Anthony Hemingway, who has directed the acclaimed TV series Treme and The Wire.
It follows the pilots as they escort bombers on vital missions in enemy territory, shoot down German aircraft and strafe targets such as trains and ships. The movie's title comes from the distinctive red tails of their P51 Mustang aircraft.
Unlike HBO's acclaimed 1995 movie The Tuskegee Airmen, starring Laurence Fishburne, which offered an overview of the black pilots, Red Tails is about the story of one black unit.
'Yes, it's a war movie, but this is like Avatar,' said Gooding recently in an interview. 'Visually, you really feel you're in these cockpits. Some of the dog fights in this movie really feel like the same thing that we had in Star Wars. I think the only difference is that all of the actors in the cockpits are black, except for the Nazis, the Germans trying to shoot them out of the sky.'
Films starring black artists such as Denzel Washington are highly successful, but for most part, the actors are Caucasian or Hispanic. Red Tails is an all-black movie.
'There are no major white roles in it at all,' Lucas told The Hollywood Reporter. 'It's one of the first, all-black action picture ever made. It's not Glory (the Civil War drama had Matthew Broderick and Denzel Washington) where you have a lot of white officers running these guys into cannon fire. They were real heroes.'
Sixty million dollars is not a very big budget when compared to the budget of a film such as the latest Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol which cost $145 million. But other films with an all-African American cast, such as Tyler Perry's Medea Goes to Jail, and Why Did I Get Married Too, each cost just about $25 million.
Though these films earn double the investment and become profitable, they play mostly to African-American audiences. Outside of America, except in pockets of the United Kingdom and France [ Images ], they have no box-office appeal.
Lucas also pointed out that Tyler Perry's films are distributed by smaller distributors such as Lions Gate.
Lucas told The Daily Show With Jon Stewart last week: 'They (the studios) don't believe there's any foreign market for it and that's 60 percent of their profit... I showed it to all of them and they said "No. We don't know how to market a movie like this."'
Lucas has also said that there is a prequel and a sequel ready to go if the film is a hit.
And for his Star Wars fans, he has said in several interviews, 'This is as close as you'll get to Episode VII.'