Friday, October 12, 2007

This just in: Black people like going to the movies

This morning as I hit the multiplex to see "We Own the Night," a very by-the-numbers cop flick salvaged only by atmosphere and tremendous acting, I noticed there were at least twice as many cars in the parking lot as usual for the early shows.

It still didn't hit me until I saw who was actually in line - 50 to 100 black women, many of whom knew each other well - that I realized what was going on: It's that annual phenomenon known as a Tyler Perry movie.

Now, though I'm far from target audience for a Tyler Perry movie, up until now I've loved every one I've seen. They're never terribly deep, but as solidly entertaining escapist movie fare, they are ideal. And I thought his last one, "Daddy's Little Girls" with Idris Elba and Gabrielle Union, was his best work yet.

But, since like I said I didn't see his new flick, "Why Did I Get Married," on Friday, I'm not really here to discuss its merits or faults (it's on the viewing agenda for Sunday morning, most likely.)

Instead I'm just kind of wondering, and admittedly probably in a less than completely cogent way, why it is that if black people line up to see movies in which people who look like them in a positive light, Hollywood doesn't make more of them?

The last time I experienced anything like this was on Christmas day of last year, when I had the pleasure of squeezing into a packed showing of "Dreamgirls." Now, "Dreamgirls" was a damn fine flick, in my opinion, and watching it with so many eager people just made it that much more fun. I'm not sure in hindsight it quite deserved the minutes-long standing ovation it received at the end, but caught up in the moment as I was then it certainly seemed appropriate at the time.

I have to get to work now before I get into hot water, but if anyone has insight into why more movies like this aren't made (and no, putting Martin Lawrence in another buddy movie doesn't count), please let me know.

23 comments:

Divinity said...

I'd cautiously suggest that it might be because high-powered studio execs and producers are predominantly not black and those that are might not want to be seen as pushing a racial agenda. Makes me think of that scene with Terrence Howard at the TV studio in Crash. Just a possibility...

Sterfish said...

There are a couple of reasons. One is that historically, black movies (or movies with black leads) don't do well internationally. To the world outside of North America, American usually equals white. Will Smith is about the only black star who can really make money internationally.

Another reason is an idea that generally applies to TV...the idea that white people won't see/watch something with a predominantly black cast. Very few black movies are really advertised in a mainstream way.

Much of the time, black movies are released during slow periods (think January/February) where the risk is lower and the assumption that black audiences will come out assures moderate success.

Personally, I really hate the "white people won't go see it" way of thinking and I think it really limits the potential of black cinema. People will go see something good, regardless of who's in it, if it's marketed well.

In a side note, I also can't believe that more of these films aren't marketed towards women. Ever since Waiting To Exhale, many black films have been romantic comedies. Many non-black romantic comedies have faltered lately and studios could be missing a big opportunity in not marketing something like Why Did I Get Married to women of all races.

Reel Fanatic said...

I think you both have good points as it relates to this ... Even if Tyler Perry doesn't win the box-office weekend war with George Clooney, I'd be willing to bet his Friday-only numbers will be. No. 1 ... and as far as the international angle goes, although I'm sure that's true, it's just incredibly sad.

J. Marquis said...

I saw Perry on Oprah. I would definitely consider seeing this film, it looks like it's dealing with stuff all couples contend with.

Neel Mehta said...

Agree with sterfish on most counts. The disparity becomes particularly frustrating when you realize that these comedies and family dramas with predominantly black casts are so inexpensive to make and recoup their costs fairly quickly and consistently. It's sad when Hollywood is so racist that it's biased against green.

I think a large segment of white audiences will always avoid black cinema if it seems too exclusive. But some films of the past could have benefited by better marketing.

Using Spike Lee as an example, I can see why a white person would not feel compelled to see Get on the Bus, but it's really Hollywood's fault that the multiracial Clockers wasn't more successful. You can see by the box office take of the well-marketed Inside Man a decade later that the potential was there.

What's really interesting is comparing this year's Pride with last year's Invincible. Same era, same city, same genre; it's like laboratory conditions here. Pride had known quantities with an Oscar-nominated actor and a former sitcom star, but its marketing was minimized and ghettoized, and it quickly vanished from theaters. It never really had a chance.

I'll stop with a question. Hollywood seems more interested in the franchise and ancillary possibilities of any movie, regardless of the cast's racial makeup. I know Barbershop and Friday have generated sequels and/or spinoffs, and Soul Food got adapted for TV. But how successful is black cinema in the DVD market? Early peak sellers, or slow consistent ones? I have no numbers on this, and I'm curious.

Reel Fanatic said...

I don't have an answer to that, Neel, but I'd imagine that Mr. Perry's movies, at least, do very well on DVD ... And I realize that I'm far from the norm for white folks, but I'd have to list "Get on the Bus" as my favorite of Spike Lee's flicks, among many great ones to choose from ... But you're certainly right that Clockers should have been as big a hit as Inside Man since, in my opinion at least, it was a much better movie

Anonymous said...

Starfish:
I live in the south of Europe and here that Murphy guy is da shit.
And series like The Fresh Prince of Bel Air or the other one with the Urkel character did veeeery well indeed.

Hannah said...

Speaking of Spike Lee, I really want to see "Do The Right Thing" again.Everyone should watch that film.
As to Perry, my grandmother loved "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" and I concur with her. I think I will see Perry's new film, but probably on DVD as I won't have time to see it in theaters.
also took my grandmother to see "Ray" in the theater and I can say, I love a predominantly African American audience when I see a film. It is like going to a live concert in comparison to listening to a CD. There is an energy. The film, if good, becomes more alive. They understand it is an experience, much of which is lost on most audiences these days.
It is shame that there are not more films that do well with audiences of all races despite the theme or cast of the film.

Mercurie said...

My best friend and I were just talking about Tyler Perry today, and while we agree his movies aren't our cup of tea, we can't deny his genius. I mean, he saw a niche in the market and he has become a multi-millionaire catering to it?!

Reel Fanatic said...

I had never heard of Mr. Perry before a friend gave me a copy of "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" to watch on DVD, Hannah, and I've been hooked ever since ... This new one looks awfully professional, and therefore probably subdued, but I'm still excited to see it tomorrow morning

Tandra said...

one word..stereotyping.
thats prolly why there arent that many black themed movies out there and i will refrain from saying more than that. i more or less agree with what everyone has said..

Im sooo looking for Tyler's nu movie..he's movies are nice,homey feel good movies..u cant beat that!

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