Black Love…In Film

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.

The highest grossing black love film ever?

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.

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21 responses to “Black Love…In Film

  1. Maybe the problem is that once Halle because “Halle” she aimed for roles in ‘bigger’, whiter films. She used the Black ones as stepping stones.

    • Well who would want to be typecast in only Black films? There are many Black people who interact with and have roles in the rest of non-Black society and they have stories to be told there. I seem to remember Halle, at her height of “Halle” a few years ago, making a movie (TV miniseries) based on a book written by a famous Black author, featuring an up and coming Black actor, produced by a Black media mogul. “Their Eyes Were Watching God.”

      • Good point D-Milz, and she also personally financed some major dollars for the docu-film on Dorothy Dandrige not long before that movie…

      • Like I said, I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing. It’s just interesting, and I’d be curious to see what a “black love film” with say Halle and Will would do. Would it draw the major numbers that they’re used to (above $100m) or would it be somewhere in the $50 to $70m range?

  2. Morning, y’all.

    @Damon: I agree w/your list of favorites. I’d probably also add Love & Basketball to my list.

    The documentary your friend is putting together sounds very interesting.

  3. I still don’t see how you like Closer so much, I fall asleep on that movie EVERY TIME!

    Anyway, I agree with your list for best black love stories, although I think The Best Man should come before The Wood and Brown Sugar. Don’t get me wrong, the latter is a great movie but it’s kind of like Common’s “I Used to Love H.E.R.” put in real life motion. And The Wood is not really a ‘love’ story, but more like a black version of American Pie with a little endearing twist at the end…

    • “The Wood is not really a ‘love’ story, but more like a black version of American Pie with a little endearing twist at the end…”

      TRUE!

      • @jlbd: I never thought about it being the black American Pie, but that makes good sense. I don’t see how you can say it’s not a black love film when a major plot line of the film is based around a guy pursuing a girl.

        On the list, they’re just my favs.

        • Well with all due respect Chris Klein’s character heavily pursued the Mena Suvari character and Thomas Ian Nicholas’s character was in love with the Tara Reid character as well, but I still wouldn’t call it a love story, just a simple comedy. Shoot, Road Trip was about a guy not wanting his girlfriend to see a video tape he made smashing another chick. He went from one end of the country to the other just to keep the women he loved from seeing this tape….still just a comedy to me. I would put The Wood in the black comedy genre personally…but of course it’s all a matter of opinion! 🙂

        • I thought the major plot line of The Wood was about three guys who shared alot of fun and interesting experiences during their youth and remained friends throughout all of it….Sub-plots include: Omar Epps’ character as a teenager being enthralled with Melinda Williams’ character, Taye Diggs character being a player for most of his life and possibly trying to avoid the wedding that awaited him in the end…

          According to IMDB.com, the tagline for the movie is ‘from boyhood to manhood, you can always count on your best friends’.

          Sidenote: Sanaa Lathan has played in 4 of the movies named in this thread so far….lol

  4. I don’t know this for sure, but my theory as to why Black love films don’t make “Knocked Up” money is because they aren’t heavily marketed overseas. That’s where all the money is. I either read or saw a report that says films are making something like 60 percent of their gross overseas (I’m talking to you, “Avatar”). Will Smith, Denzel Washington and Halle Berry are big overseas because they made movies that were marketed to wider audiences (“Men in Black,” “Glory” and “Die Another Day”). When studios start looking beyond the trifecta and start paying attention to really talented, younger black actors and actresses who aren’t married to Jay-Z (Columbus Short, Sharon Neal), then we might see a re-emergence of the Black love story.

    • @aye

      Exactly. I read this recently on another blog and it is very true. When films can’t be marketed overseas they are not popular to make in Hollywood. It seems like there needs to be barriers broken in foreign countries on the images or pre-conceived notions they may have of blacks…

    • Yup. You’re right on target with this.

      “Couple’s Retreat” producers got some flack for modifying the poster used to advertise it overseas: they took out the black couple (Faison Love and Kali Hawk). They added them back, but there’s no mistake they were taken out to make the movie profitable overseas.

  5. My old-skool, black luv favs are: Lady Sings The Blues and Mahogany. Billy Dee Williams and Diana Ross had great chemistry…

  6. I was always told I was the only one in the world who liked Brown Sugar better than Love and Basketball. Glad I’m not the only one.

    I would add I think I Love My Wife to this list. One of my faves. Even based on a French film, I thought it was brilliant.

    I hate to be cliche, but I really do think that the Obamas have helped put Americans on notice that true black love really does exist. Not a relationship where the girl is the “main one” (I want to poke any girl in the eyeballs who actually brags about being the main), but an actual honest relationship based on love and respect. I think the key is for filmmakers to not get jaded and keep trying. I’m optimistic that a break through will come eventually.

  7. Non-Black people have a real hard time relating to Black Love….

    How come “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” didn’t make the list?

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