George Lucas, producer director of some of the most profitable films in Hollywood history (Star Wars, Indiana Jones, etc), has been working on Red Tails, an action-packed, special effects-laden World War II movie for 23 years. He paid for it himself. He figured a studio would eventually come in and pay for distribution and publicity. He showed it to all of them and no one would touch it.

Why? It’s the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, African American men who fought not only our enemies overseas but the culture of discrimination and oppression at home. According to Lucas, the studios weren’t interested:

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.”

“It’s not Glory, where you have a lot of white officers running these guys into cannon fodder.”

An all-black cast featuring Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Terrence Howard, led by a black director, Anthony Hemingway, and George Lucas can’t generate interest from the studios? I guess we’re not quite post-racial…

When Lucas began working on Red Tails, there were about forty living Tuskegee veterans who advised the filmmakers to make sure they got the story right. It took so long to get made that upon its release this month only seven of the vets are still alive.

I don’t know what kind of deal he finally struck for Twentieth Century Fox to partner in its distribution, but I was surprised and impressed by Lucas’s blunt honesty in discussing it with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show last night. Check out the interview here.

Then watch the preview:

Red Tails opens in theaters on January 20. I hope it is a HUGE success.