Universal's The Best Man Holiday made headlines this past weekend, opening this weekend to decent reviews, an extremely rare A+ rating on CinemaScore, and excellent box office numbers: $30.6 million, a close second to Marvel's Thor: Dark World, which earned $35.8 million in its second weekend. But films featuring predominantly black casts have been performing well for years, so why the hell are reporters still so shocked when a "black film" succeeds at the box office?
When Sony released Think Like A Man in 2012, it earned $33.6 million in its opening weekend, before going on to rake in a cumulative $91.5 million domestic gross. Not a single one of Tyler Perry's five Madea movies took in less than $21 million in their opening weekends. Yet black films continue to be seen as niche movies that only appeal to a small subsect of the population, and their success remains an anomaly.
When The Best Man Holiday took in $30 million this weekend, entertainment reporters were quick to express their shock that the movie did so well. The phrase "over-performed" was thrown around by outlets, including Variety. Struggling behemoth USA Today also stepped into it, titling an online headline "Holiday Nearly Beat Thor, As Race-Themed Films Soar." After much outrage on Twitter, they changed "race-themed films" to the equally inelegant "ethnically diverse," before finally settling on "Best Man Holiday Nearly Beats Mighty Thor." Ray Subers, the journalist who runs Box Office Mojo, a well-known site for box office prognostication and analysis, summed up his shock with a tweet on opening Friday that read "Looks like at least $30 mil for BEST MAN HOLIDAY this weekend. Very surprising." His prediction for the film was a paltry $54 million cumulative—a figure that will easily be outpaced if the opening weekend successes continue.
Labeling these box office victories as "surprising" and "over performing" immediately indicates that they are an aberration from the norm, unlikely to happen again with any degree of consistency. Coming from an average viewer, it's still short-sighted. Coming from a movie writer? It's idiotic. As a paid critic or commenter, there's a reasonable expectation to know what the hell you're talking about when preaching to thousands of readers. But there's a larger responsibility that comes with the reach: the ability to educate and engage. If entertainment reporters, who have seen continued trending success in films geared towards niche audiences, can't acknowledge that times are changing, can the general public's perception towards said films really evolve either?
Subers had a moronic tweet in the days prior to the film, in regards to the multiple diverse holiday films being released in the coming weeks.
Within the next month, three holiday movies with mostly African-American casts (BEST MAN, BLACK NATIVITY, MADEA) will be released. Overkill?
— Ray Subers (@raysubers) November 14, 2013
When pressed on how that was an oddly racist sentiment masquerading as an interrogative statement, Subers feigned ignorance, asking how that tweet could be seen as offensive. I pointed out that in 2004, there were three major holiday films all featuring big name actors and all-white casts/storylines—The Polar Express, Surviving Christmas, and Christmas With The Kranks—Subers only response was "I wasn't doing box office analysis in 2004." While his statements are surprising for a journalist (I mean, overkill, really?), he's unfortunately not alone. Despite stating that it should be unsurprising that black audiences enjoy the moviegoing experience, Scott Mendelson at Forbes ultimately chalks the success of Best Man Holiday up to a fad (emphasis mine).
On that note, Tim Story's Think Like A Man was a breath of fresh air last April, a genuine ensemble romantic comedy that happened to feature a most black cast without the Tyler Perry baggage. If Think Like A Man was The Ring, Malcolm D. Lee's The Best Man Holiday is The Grudge, the first major movie to capitalize on what Hollywood hopes may be a fad.
In the minds of critics like Subers and Mendelson, black films primarily only appeal to black audiences. And while that's not entirely untrue—Variety reports that 87 percent of the audience was black—no critic would call a Ryan Gosling-Rachel McAdams romance a "white film." In a year where three major Oscar contenders tell the story of black males: The Butler, Fruitvale Station, and 12 Years A Slave, the real shock isn't that a movie like The Best Man Holiday can be successful—it's that in this day and age, anyone is surprised at all.