Black movies have been getting quite the buzz over the past year. From Kevin Hart’s multitude of films, to last weekend’s “The Best Man Holiday,” movies starring black actors are becoming all the rage. And they should be!
Well, I’m not saying that just because I’m black, I’m saying that just because I’m greedy. Black movies are profitable…almost strangely so. In a world where the studios are doing their best to stay out of the red and blockbuster movies are not only failing, but they’re failing at movie topics that preceded them only a few months prior (i.e., “White House Down”), it’s amazing that these types of “niche” movies are so profitable!
So just how profitable are black movies? I don’t have the wherewithal to get into the P&As for the black movies of note, but checkout these six movies with black-centric casts:
- Baggage Claim – $21m Gross to Date; Production Costs: $8.5m (est.)
- The Best Man Holiday – $50m GTD; Costs: $17m
- Think Like a Man – $91m GTD; Costs: $12m
- Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain – $32m GTD; Costs: N/A (stand up special)
- Fruitvale Station: $16m GTD; Costs: <$1m (estimated)
- The Butler: $115m GTD; Costs: $30m
To put it simply, those movies crushed the typical ROI for an average movie. Hell, even a blockbuster movie that does $300m is going to cost you around $125m before P&A. That’s less than a 2x return on the production costs–which represents an even worse ROI once you account for prints and advertising costs. “The Best Man Holiday,” however, is already guaranteed to see its revenues triple its costs. Fruitvale Station is proving yet again that black independent movies can make money (see “Precious”). And Kevin Hart appears to be one of the most bankable stars in Hollywood, in part because of a dedication to films with predominantly black roles.
The studios have to look at results like these and rethink their strategies. It has long been the prevailing thought that because black movies don’t do well overseas, don’t appeal to mass US audiences, and don’t do well in TV sales, that they won’t be able to last in a period when the theater-watching window is shrinking. But if you can damn near double your production costs on opening weekend like “The Best Man Holiday” did, then you can’t knock it till you try it, right?
So, I’ve established that black movies are profitable, and certainly some entities, particularly Lionsgate with Tyler Perry and Kevin Hart, have already realized that. That said, profits aren’t the only thing putting black movies in the spotlight right now–so are the reviews of the black movies.
Case and point: “The Best Man Holiday.” USA Today got into trouble when they deemed “The Best Man Holiday” a race-themed movie. That was clearly an ignorant and misguided sentiment expressed by the paper, one they quickly changed. But their mess-up speaks to a larger point, which is that a lot of America looks at a movie trailer with all black actors and says to themselves, “Oh, that movie is not targeted at me.” And don’t tell me that’s not true. I’ve been to enough “race-themed” movies to know the difference between the people sitting next to me at a Tyler Perry movie and those sitting next to me at a Martin Scorsese film. But as a black man, I don’t look at a Jennifer Anniston movie and say that movie isn’t targeted at me. This divide clearly represents a marketing challenge that perhaps explains why some studios don’t invests in black movies as much as they should. However, the studios that invest in developing or acquiring the marketing acumen to overcome that marketing challenge are going to be the studios that do the best over the next 15-20 years–mark my digitally spoken words!
It wasn’t just the USA Today that should have been in the news though. In a review of “The Best Man Holiday” on Variety.com, writer Andrew Barker had this to say:
Meanwhile, Jordan (Nia Long) is now a high-powered TV producer, dating a studly white lawyer (Eddie Cibrian) to the shock and titillation of her old friends, who have apparently never encountered an interracial relationship in all their years among the New York media elite.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I also found this comment to be uniquely racial, if not just asinine. It’s comments and reviews of movies like this that make black-actor-centric films come across as if they can’t be enjoyed by non-black people. Here, the reviewer is essentially saying that the movie somehow evoked some type of shock and awe about interracial relationships, when all it did was show friends playfully making jest of another friend’s new spouse, in the same way that one might make jest of a friend dating a significantly younger or older man or woman. In this movie, there was no shock or titillation displayed in the face of an interracial relationship, and the fact that the reviewer suggests as much makes the movie seem a lot more “race-themed” than it actually is.
Last but not least, what really has the entertainment world a buzz about black movies and the recent release of “The Best Man Holiday” is that counter-programming actually works as a strategy!
Who would have thunk it? After all these years of Sunday Night dramas going up against football and basketball, studios (or at least Lionsgate) may have figured out that counter-programming can be the difference between a mid-tier movie struggling and thriving. “The Best Man Holiday” was literally up against a super-hero, and while “Thor” did beat the movie $38-$30, “The Best Man Holiday” managed to double its expected revenue, thanks in part to the fact that everyone who didn’t want to see a super-hero movie could turn to a romantic comedy instead.
Perhaps going forward, instead of just bowing down to the likes of summer blockbuster movies and Oscar-worthy films, studios will look at those weekends as opportunities. Because even with mass-marketed films, there is an audience that has no interest in them, and if they found the right movie, they’d happily go buy a less-competitive ticket and enjoy the type of film they like. “The Best Man Holiday” succeeded at that, not merely by targeting black people though, because blacks certainly like super hero movies, too. Instead, they went specifically after women, which are far less likely to be into super heroes than us juvenile men are. In doing so, “The Best Man Holiday” scored an opening weekend success, and also put me in a theater with more women in it than that time I saw “The Notebook.”
Anyway, we should have learned three lessons today. One, counter-programming is something studios have to explore more of instead of just bowing down to blockbusters, which by the way, sometimes fail.
Two, reviewers of black movies have to do better, or they risk being the mass perpetrators of continuing this falsity that black movies aren’t worth the investment.
And three, black movies are indeed profitable, and the proof is in the numbers. Class dismissed…now go watch “The Best Man!”