The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

What Created Tyler Perry?

Ah! I've found another way to illustrate what I'm saying about an "unequal playing field" using movies to do it. I talked about sexuality, but it isn't even necessary to go there in order to show how black faces kill box office. Whites can often be fooled by a black face on the poster. They don't consider that most of the boxoffice blockbusters with Will Smith or whoever are actually white films with a single black person at the lead. Because this is psychologically, the baseline of reality ("people" are white. Then there are "black people", "Chinese people", "Mexican people" etc., in much the same way that "flesh" colored crayons or bandages are colored for white people. They are the reference--everything else is a modification) you don't even notice. Why not, I thought, define a "black" film as a film where six out of the top ten actors in the film are black. Fair? So go to IMDB (http://www.imdb.com/boxoffice/alltimegross) and take a peek.

I probably missed a couple of movies, but at a quick glimpse, what you'll see is that of the 437 films that have crossed the 100 million mark, only a little over 1% of them have non-white casts. Now, this means ANY kind of non-whites. What you'll see is that you have to go TWO HUNDRED movies down the list to find one in which the entire world doesn't revolve around white people and their concerns, with more than a token face out in front. And what is the most successful film ever? Eddie Murphy's "Dr. Doolittle", earning 144,156,000. Followed by Coming To America (#263), Big Mama's House (#318), Dr. Doolittle 2 (#343), and Dreamgirls (#395). Get down below a 100 mill, and you see tons of movies with non-white casts. Go ahead: keep trying to believe that "it's just Hollywood". This is America voting with its dollars.

People want to see the world revolving around them. This is why Tyler Perry has become the most successful black filmmaker in history. He is playing to the lowest common denominator in order to have a safety net for his films. And considering the talented casts he has been able to attract, be careful how you sneer. He knows EXACTLY the game he's playing: creating a pattern of success that others will be able to build upon. Looking down on Madea is a lot like looking at tattered ghetto neighborhoods and wondering why "those" people like living that way.

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Ooh. A "Facebook" poll asking "Should Obama Be Killed." So glad that the venom is no higher than it has been in the past, and that there is no racial component. This is filth, the flat rocks that got turned over when the Unthinkable happened. Of course, it's all about his policies. Of course. I will state this clearly: anyone who is in denial about this part of our current national discourse is just asleep. And your sleep is enabling one of the ugliest waves of hate I have experienced in my lifetime. And you invalidate the legitimate arguments with, say, UHC because you have not called out the racists waving signs at your side.

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Hot DAMN I love having a partner like T. We're working on the new Tennyson, turning it in tomorrow. Have the book divided into two chunks on Buzzword, which allows us to swap back and forth effortlessly, and even work on the same file at the same time (to a more limited degree).

This creates a fascinating situation where either of us can sign onto one of the desktop or laptop computers, anywhere in the house (or the world) and work. If I don't see a red warning saying she is EDITING, I can just jump in and write. If I have to put a note on the chunk she's working on, I can do that with ease--I just can't get in and change the text until she saves. This is great, because everytime I go in I see new text, new changes, unexpected stuff. It's almost like having elves.

22 comments:

Scott said...

"And you invalidate the legitimate arguments with, say, UHC because you have not called out the racists waving signs at your side."

But if we preface every single statement with "Racism is bad" then we may talk?

Vincent S. Moore said...

This reminds me of a Paul Mooney joke. A young white man asked Mr. Mooney if everything has to revolve around race to which his response was "Yes, because you folks have set up the rules this way. I'm just playing by your rules" or something to that effect. Working on memory here.

Scott Masterton said...

Steve,
I've read a lot of books where authors collaborate. Like all books, some are bad, some good and some excellent. I've enjoyed both of the Hardwick novels and have read all of your stand alone novels and two of Tananarive's. Both of you have distinct voices and distinctive styles.

How do you handle that when writing as a team? When I read the Hardwick novels, I can "hear" a bit of each of you...but I find I really have no sense of who is doing the writing at any given time. How do writers collaborate in such a way as become seamless? Do you work this out before hand or is this handled in the editing process?

Thanks much.
Scott.
PS - looking forward to the release of the new Hardwick.

Marty S said...

Steve: While I don't disagree with you that white people as a group have a preference for films with at least partly white casts, I do question your analysis in this post. If about 800 films a year are released and about 25 of them gross 100 million plus, then there are "tons" of movies with white casts that don't make the cut either. I also suspect that there are categories of films that tend to make the cut, like those oriented towards children and those that don't fit into the blockbuster categories. I would be curious if we were to categorize the films that have primarily non-white casts if they proportionately fall into the most popular categories for blockbusters or not.

Frank said...

And what is the most successful film ever? Eddie Murphy's "Dr. Doolittle", earning 144,156,000. Followed by Coming To America (#263), Big Mama's House (#318), Dr. Doolittle 2 (#343), and Dreamgirls (#395). Get down below a 100 mill, and you see tons of movies with non-white casts.

I'm curious. Are these numbers for the US box office?

If so, what is the data worldwide?

Is the data broken down by box office by country?

If so, are there any countries where these movies come out on top?

If so, which ones?

wraith808 said...

What do you consider the Matrix Trilogy? I do wonder what would have happened had Will Smith taken the role of Neo, though...

Winston said...

Frank, excellent questions. Since you are demonstrating a clear intent to advance this discussion, why don't you take another step forward and do some research on the questions you have posed? Report back to us your results along with some thoughtful analysis. Let me know if you have trouble figuring out how to use Google and other search engines. I'll check back this evening to see what you have put together for us... if anything.

Scott said...

"This reminds me of a Paul Mooney joke. A young white man asked Mr. Mooney if everything has to revolve around race to which his response was "Yes, because you folks have set up the rules this way. I'm just playing by your rules" or something to that effect. Working on memory here."

Funny.

Vincent S. Moore said...

Wraith, if Will Smith had starred, the Matrix trilogy probably wouldn't have been a trilogy at all. Just the one movie. Or if it spawned two sequels, more white actors would have been added.

One reason is that white and black audiences probably wouldn't have supported the films the same way.

Another way to look at this is how the black community reacted and dealt with the Obama candidacy. Until he racked up some serious wins, the black community as a whole sat back and held their breath. The fear was that he would fail due either to lack of white support or the assumption by whites that all blacks were in his corner already, making him the "black" candidate instead of just the candidate for president.

Vincent S. Moore said...

Scott,

Yeah, it's funny. And sad at the same time because it's true. As Americans, we all have come so far yet it feels like we haven't come far enough.

wraith808 said...

Wraith, if Will Smith had starred, the Matrix trilogy probably wouldn't have been a trilogy at all. Just the one movie. Or if it spawned two sequels, more white actors would have been added.

I don't think it's so clear cut. Will Smith has always been palatable to a wide audience. The movie is already darker than many out there- look at the composition of the ship and Zion. That brings up an interesting point- that the Matrix was for the most part white, and Zion was for the most part not.

But back to the point- I'm not so sure that it wouldn't have been just as popular.

Vincent S. Moore said...

Wraith, as with all speculations about the past, everything is relative.

For example, in my mind a Matrix starring Will Smith would have probably cast a white actor to play Morpheus and that actor, not Smith, would have been the lover of Trinity. Or if Smith's Neo and Trinity were lovers, their love would have been sacrificed (either through her death or by mutual denial) by the end of the movie. Or Smith would have failed to save Morpheus to sow deeper seeds of doubt into the minds of his character and the audience.

As for the overall blackness of the three movies, I think Steven's point still stands. Reeves' Neo is the prime mover in the trilogy. Everything is done in support of him as savior. All the black characters are there as, pardon the pun, local color. They are important, just not as important as him. If anything the Matrix trilogy is the exception to the rule by a slim margin.

Vincent S. Moore said...

Besides, Will Smith himself is not the exception to the rule. All of his hits are just as Steven describes: white films with a black lead actor. The two films of Smith's that haven't done as well are Ali and Seven Pounds. One has a mostly black cast and the other has Smith's first real love story.

Steven Barnes said...

Scott--

I begin to suspect that you are deliberately missing the point. The question isn't whether racism is bad. The question is whether a significant portion of the opposition to Obama is fed by racism. Not the majority of it--but a significant proportion. And I think you know this, and are trying to have "fun." Hope I'm wrong about that, but that's how it seems.

Steven Barnes said...

Vincent:
"Ali" also had another problem: a sex scene.
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Marty: I'm not sure why you even bothered making the comment about "tons of white movies" that don't make it to success. That would be like saying, pre-Obama, that there are "plenty of white people who don't get to be President" and therefore there is no imbalance. The point is that virtually all the ones that DO succeed have dominately white casts, disproportionate to the population.
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Frank: Boxofficemojo.com has the info you need. And no, black films do even worse in Europe, of course. My point is not, and never has been, that "white people prefer their own." It is that PEOPLE prefer whatever they consider "their own." Nothing special about white people at all.

Steven Barnes said...

Trying to blame Hollywood again, are we? If you look at the films that make over 100 million, of course you find a disproportionate number that have huge budgets. But the further down the list you go, the more you find that are modestly budgeted, not certain blockbusters at all, movies like:Mamma Mia, Ghost, Pretty Woman, The Hangover, Meet the Fockers, Rain Man, The Bodyguard, Grease, Click, Notting Hill, Basic Instinct, Twilight, Se7en, A Beautiful Mind, As Good As It Gets, Runaway Bride, and many many more. Nope, it's the public, not some tiny cabal of Hollywood racists who refuse to cast black people in expensive movies for nefarious reasons. It fascinates me how hard this is for many white people to grasp.

Marty S said...

Steve: I started my comment by saying I don't disagree with your point. There is no doubt that people are more comfortable with their own kind. I can give you the perfect example in my own life. If you called my wife a racist she would get angry point out her black friends, her support of civil rights etc. But when I took her to a Jamaican restaurant and we were the only white people there she felt uncomfortable and the next time I suggested it refused to go back. My only point was that I believe the really popular movies on the whole fit into certain narrow categories and that certain movie producers are more interested in making "meaningful" movies than popular movies. I was speculating that part of the explanation for poorer relative success of mostly black characters movies is that those willing to make them are also in the "meaningful" category. When I am on the internet looking for a movie to go to I find for many movies a strong disconnect between the user ratings and critics ratings, which I believe reflects this dichotomy between the two types of movies.

Scott said...

"I begin to suspect that you are deliberately missing the point. The question isn't whether racism is bad. The question is whether a significant portion of the opposition to Obama is fed by racism. Not the majority of it--but a significant proportion. And I think you know this, and are trying to have "fun." Hope I'm wrong about that, but that's how it seems."

Oh; let me clarify. We agree that racism is bad. We agree that a significant portion of Obama's opposition is fueled by racism.

We disagree on the importance of accuracy and the idea that legitimate arguments are invalidated if they aren't immediately preceded by racial equality pablum and that racism is of paramount importance.

I am in fact having fun, it's an interesting conversation. If I've hurt your feelings, though, tell me so and I'll shut up. There's a widely distributed rule that saying "Shut up, Scott" is free.

Shady_Grady said...

I think it's possible to respect Tyler Perry's business acumen in a dispassionate way while not finding his movies particularly engaging.

I think most of his films are crap and I don't understand the cross-dressing (though to be fair, he's not the first or last black male star to do that)

http://siditty.blogspot.com/2009/09/what-tyler-perry-movies-have-taught-me.html

I appreciate that opportunities for black artists are not too common but that doesn't mean that I should view something I think is no good, just because it has a majority black cast and black director.

Anonymous said...

"The two films of Smith's that haven't done as well are Ali and Seven Pounds. One has a mostly black cast and the other has Smith's first real love story."


Well that and Seven Pounds just isn't that good for a movie storywise and is in serious need of truth in advertising. I believe the box said 'uplifting' when they meant 'emotional, but a serious downer- watch and be depressed!'

La Reyna said...

To be frank, White America is deeply fearful of Black sexuality, whether it is displayed privately and publicly. They certainly DO NOT want to see any kind of affection between Black people. Everyone keeps talking about interracial when in fact that society doesn't want to see Black men in any kind of relationship whatsoever, be it on the small and big screen period.

La Reyna

Anonymous said...

"Everyone keeps talking about interracial when in fact that society doesn't want to see Black men in any kind of relationship whatsoever, be it on the small and big screen period."

Then why did The Cosby Show do wo well?