I’m sitting on a interesting panel this week. My friend Shawn Edwards, a film critic for FOX 4 Kansas City, is piecing together a documentary The Movies We Love: The 25 Most Romantic Black Movies (Ever), which will premiere this summer.
Tuesday’s panel, Black Love Stories in Film: Where is the Romance?, precedes the documentary and should provide for a lively dialogue. Shawn puts it best in this column by my friend Jenee Osterheldt: “Where are the black love stories?” It’s a good lead into to that holiday that’s gonna have men lined up outside of floral stores in about a week.
I’ve done some mulling around in recent months, trying to find answers as to why the black love story has all but disappeared from film. Really, just for my own knowledge. What overwhelmed me were the numbers. It’s just a hypothesis: But it seems like the black love film seems to have disappeared because they don’t do big money.
Most of the black romantic comedies that popped up after, say, The Best Man — there are a slew of them — seem to have a grossing peak of $30 million. The Best Man grossed around $34 million. Conversely, if you look at say, Closer — maybe my favorite film centered around relationships — you see that the studios tend to throw around more money. Closer was made on a $27 million budget and grossed nearly $115 million. Last year, The Ugly Truth, a terribly horrific film, grossed nearly $200 million on a $40 million budget.
The thing those two films have that the black ones don’t? Star power (Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler). If you think it through, the most bankable black actors rarely do films that are based around black stories. I’m don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing. It’s just interesting that the last time a bankable black actor starred in a black romantic comedy was Boomerang in 1992. Guess what? It grossed $131 million on a $42 million budget…in 1992.
Yup, you can take the Taye Diggs black love film catalog (How Stella Got Her Groove Back, The Wood The Best Man and Brown Sugar), add the figures together, and it still doesn’t gross what Boomerang did. Crazy. I don’t think that says anything bad about Sanaa, Omar, Morris, Nia and friends. But it makes you wonder what would happen if Will Smith and Halle Berry did a black love film together.
But it also, I think, potentially puts in perspective why black love films aren’t flying out of Hollywood left and right like they were around the turn of the century. The potential return is too low. Idk. I wish the producers would realize that there’s still a market to be had and make more of these films.
What I do know is that this is a big part of the reason why Tyler Perry is swimming in money like he’s Scrooge McDuck these days. But that’s a story for another day.
Anyway, here are my favorite black love films (the numbers they did at the box office), the ones that I think genuinely stand the test of time.
Love Jones (1997, $10m production/$12m gross) Probably my favorite because of all of the questions that are asked and explored in the actual dialogue. I can’t stand Nina’s best friend, though. She’s the root of every problem in the film.
Boomerang 1992, ($42m/$131m). There are plenty of black men who will not date a woman with jacked up feet because of Marcus Graham’s philosophy. Feel like this is the film where Halle Berry became “Halle Berry.”
The Wood (1999, $6m/$25m). A tale of innocence and reminiscent of a childhood so many young black kids born from say 1975 to 1984 know extremely well. It really does make you long for your youth.
Brown Sugar (2004, $8m/$28m). Compelling story of opposite sex best friends falling in love with other people and maintaining their friendship, then falling in love. I could watch the “*ting, ting* ‘My divorce!'” scene a 100 times over and laugh every time.