On Friday night, Best Man Holiday beat Thor: The Dark World at the box office. While Thor was still number one movie of the weekend — earning $38 million — Best Man raked in $30 million, prompting a bunch of people to question: What does it mean?
A now-removed USA Today article by Scott Bowles was titled "'Holiday' nearly beats 'Thor' as race-themed films soar." Pardon? Race-themed? The headline —as well as the thrust of the piece — was criticized and mocked on Twitter, with blogger Awesomely Luvvie writing,
With that logic, then Girls is "race-themed" too. It's about boring white girls who live in NYC. So was Friends which is about hilarious white yuppies in NYC. And Titanic was a race-themed biopic about white folks who drowned on a cruise ship that crashed.
Bowles also wrote, "Cultures have been hot sellers at the turnstiles this year," and pointed out that Fruitvale Station, The Butler and 12 Years a Slave also did well at the box office. "Cultures." Movies about "cultures." Not Americans, or black people. (The piece has since been rewritten to clarify that other movies with black casts have succeeded this year.
Over at Forbes, Scott Mendelson scolds, "It's a problem that black-centric films doing well are still considered 'surprising'."
Writing for Bloomberg Businessweek, Bilge Ebiri notes that it would be a mistake to assume that the movie did well solely because of its cast.
If anything, what The Best Man Holiday's success points to is just good, old fashioned counter-programming: What better movie to open against the white fanboy fodder of an amped-up Thor sequel than this soft, touching Christmas-themed romantic comedy?
Makes sense: The movie had good word of mouth and an A+ Cinemascore. Some people would rather watch a heart-warming, realistic, human story (not about slavery! Set in the here and now!) instead of eye-popping special effects and superheroes. What's shocking about that?
Adam B. Vary, writing for Buzzfeed, reminds us that:
Two other films from this year with predominantly black characters — May's Tyler Perry Presents Peeples (produced but not directed by Perry) and June's After Earth (starring Will and Jaden Smith) — were unqualified flops in the U.S., in no small part because they were, to put it gently, bad.
He sums up:
So, to recap: Audiences will pay to see really good movies with black casts that aren't directed by Tyler Perry. It seems like a simple proposition. Let's hope Hollywood is paying attention.