Think Like a Man‘s box office success captured many people by surprise, spurring debate about its formula for success. One such discussion was begun by the article entitled ‘What Hollywood Needs to Learn from Think Like a Man’. Instead of writing my comments about the article in it’s comment section, I decided to write them here as my thoughts and responses to it are quite lengthly.
The ‘What Hollywood Needs to Learn from Think Like a Man’ article and my responses:
Nothing captures the attention of Hollywood bean counters like money and so there will, no doubt, be much talk about the success of Think Like A Man over the coming weeks. I mean, look at it: A low budget film without a single proven movie star not only opened in the number one position, it did so by knocking The Hunger Games out of that spot and posting numbers more than double what its own distributor was projecting / hoping for. That’s remarkable.
Not only will they examine the formula present in Think Like A Man, they will try to replicate it and franchise it if they can. Audiences will have to endure a plethora of knockoffs and cash-ins that all miss the “why” in the equation.
The conversation about how this happened has already started and – no real surprise – most of it so far centers around a quality ad campaign and a good job done by the distributor. It’s no surprise because these are the people in power and they always want to take credit for successes while shoving off failures on other forces.
The advertising campaign for Think Like A Man was no different than any other campaign for a comedy or romanic comedy, as far as I can tell. The slight difference with Think Like A Man is that the film came with a built-in audience because it was based on a novel (Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man). Studios surely will not miss this point when they examine how Think Like a Man doubled its projections for its opening weekend.
But, while taking nothing away from the marketers and execs who put this film out there, I want to suggest there’s a different factor that’s driving this film. A much more obvious one, which you would think would make it that much easier to capitalize on but which – by its very nature – is one that Hollywood would most likely prefer to sweep under the rug because acknowledging it would mean acknowledging some unsavory things about their dominant business practices.
Think Like A Man is succeeding because it’s black.
Let me be very clear what I am not suggesting with that statement. I am not saying that America’s black population wants to be pandered to. And I am certainly not suggesting that they’ll turn out en masse simply because there is a black actor in a film. If Think Like A Man was not also good and did not also star some legitimately funny people nobody would care about it at all, regardless of race. But what I very definitely do mean is that Hollywood has neglected and ignored the minority populations of America to such a shocking degree in the past decades that when something good finally wends its way through the system they will turn out en masse to support it.
I would love to see the exiting polling on this film to see what age demographic, gender, et cetera turned out to see the film. The cast was not entirely black and I would like to know what percentage from other groups turned out to see this film as well.
That being said, I have to agree. A good product will usually bring in good numbers, though that did not happen with Lucky Number Slevin but that was because of its advertising campaign amongst other variables.
You also have to ask how people knew that Think Like A Man was good and not your average comedy or book-to-film adapatation. The only answers are advanced critics screenings and the reviews they wrote for the film along with the following these “unproven” actors and actresses brought with them. I have seen many of the actors and actresses featured in noteworthy projects: Entourage, The 40 Year Old Virgin, Californation, and the list goes on and on.
Consider this: Last year’s summer blockbuster season carried on for months without a single actor of color – of ANY color – appearing on the marquee of ANY film for the entire season. Hollywood will argue that they do not cast black leads because there are so few black leads capable of ‘opening’ a film. I counter that there are so few viable black leads because none are ever given the chance to develop. Bizarrely, the most racially diverse summer blockbuster of 2011 was the one that actually had legitimate reason to cast dominantly white. That was Thor, in which Kenneth Branagh cast Idris Elba and Tadanobu Asano as Norse gods. And let’s be honest: When a movie about Norse gods is the most racially diverse of the major blockbusters released in a year then something is severely wrong with the way the industry is operating.
If I remember correctly, some people were upset that Idris Elba and Tadanobu Asano had been cast in those roles in Thor. I imagine these same people were outraged that Samuel L. Jackson was cast as Nick Fury in Iron Man.
Howard Stern always points out the fact that radio stations do not cultivate its talent, they hire independent contractors. Its the same with movie studios. Most movie studios do not develop their own talent, they purchase talent for the duration of a film production. Movie studios in the past used to develop talent, going so far as to sign them to exclusive contracts (they couldn’t make films for any other studio), getting them singing, acting, and dance lessons to polish even the smallest amount of talent in them.
This does not happen anymore and has not happened for 80-90 years.
Then there is 1998’s Blade, it viable lead actor, and his developed filmography.
Wesley Snipes, a black actor, opened that trilogy to greater and greater numbers (Blade $131.2 Million worldwide, Blade II $150 Million worldwide, Blade: Trinity $150 Million worldwide) though the films were of lesser quality with each sequel. Snipes was bankable because of his long string of well-received films. His star power was strong enough to open a large studio film, a comic book franchise no less.
Hollywood does give a select few black leads a chance to appear on movie theater marquees (though it is few and far between) just well-proven Hollywood leads e.g. Denzel Washington and his film Safe House.
It was not always this way. Look back to the 1980s. Films of all types – and particularly films aimed at mass audiences – made a point of casting across multiple races. Eddie Murphy vehicles like 48 Hours and Beverly Hills Cop set the template and the approach was literally everywhere. Why? Because producers understood something that they have seemingly forgotten since: If you want to appeal to a mass audience the simplest first step to doing so is making sure all sectors of the audience have someone to identify with.
People go to the movies – at least the movies produced as mass entertainments – for a bit of escapism. For a bit of fantasy. And a key element in being able to carry out that escape is seeing someone on the big screen who you can easily identify with, whose shoes you can step into. If you’re a white male, that’s fine. There are plenty of options to choose from. But if you’re black, what have you got? Not much. And god forbid you’re Asian or Hispanic. In the producer’s quest for the ‘four quadrant’ movie Hollywood has become increasingly homogeneous, somehow completely missing the fact that an enormous percentage of the country is not white and that those people would like to have some stars of their own as well, thanks.
Hollywood studios do realize that “an enormous percentage of the country is not white and that those people would like to have some stars of their own as well” and because of this knowledge, there is an often indulged in downside. It is exemplified in Not Another Teen Movie, A Walk to Remember, Alien vs. Predator: Requiem, and South Park: Token. Studios often place into a film a token minority (who is just on-screen window dressing and not really part of the main plot) to appeal to their ethnic group and draw in those people to buy movie tickets. I would rather they left the minority out of the film than to see this happen.
Rising Sun did it the right way: its producers placed a white lead Sean Connery in a predominantly Asian cast with a black lead as well, in this case Wesley Snipes. Snipes brought with him an audience that had followed him since New Jack City and Connery brought with him fans reaching all the way back to his James Bond days.
Jackie Brown is another instance of a four-quadrant and ethnically rich film being done right, not for effect and paper diversity.
That the decisions in Hollywood are made dominantly by white men is far from a new phenomenon. It’s been that way from the beginning. It’s something that should change and needs to change, though realistically any shifts on that front will be a long time coming. Hell, even getting away from the producing and executive ranks, the directors are overwhelmingly white men. I mean, name a mainstream black director outside of the Hughes Brothers. Or an Asian other than Justin Lin. Or any Hispanics at all. They’re all shockingly short lists and addressing that – cultivating talents that can make their way up through the system – is going to be a matter of years, not days. But the casting issue is one that could, and should, be addressed immediately. It would be nice to think Hollywood would do so for moral reasons but, if not, they should at least do so for business ones. There are non-white audiences that want to be served and represented on screen and the producer that remembers this will be rewarded. Representative casting is good business, plain and simple. Just ask the producers behind Think Like A Man.
Off the top of my head, Spike Lee would be the mainstream black director that I would name, Takashi Miike would be the Asian director I would name. Hispanic would be Robert Rodriguez but you’re right, the list of minority mainstream directors is short…but it is growing.
Representative casting is good business when the film calls for an ethnically diverse cast. When it is not called for or would not be advantageous, it should not be implemented. It should not be handled like 3D was after Avatar was released: a gold rush. It should be used when appropriate. In the case of Think Like a Man, it was.
Original ‘What Hollywood Needs to Learn from Think Like a Man’ article source: Twitchfilm