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Looking Back At The 1st Quarter of 2012 In Black Cinema; How Did We Do?

Looking Back At The 1st Quarter of 2012 In Black Cinema; How Did We Do?

So… the first quarter of 2012 has come to an end, and as I like to do from time to time, let’s take a look at how we’ve done so far this year; and by that I mean, how black films released in theaters (in the USA) during the first 3 months of the year, fared.

And by “black films” I’m considering those films that center on stories that center singularly on stories about people of African descent; so I’m not including films like Safe House (which really was Ryan Reynold’s film, with Denzel Washington as a supporting character); Joyful Noise (which I didn’t see) is questionable, but I included it, since Queen Latifah’s role is a primary one and is absolutely essential to the film’s plot. 

We all have our definitions for “black films” and I’m sure some disagree with mine, and that’s fine. These are my criteria for the sake of this post. 

There are those films that don’t center on black characters but do feature black actors in supporting roles, like Courtney B. Vance in The Divide; Michael Ealy assuming supporting role duties in the next Underworld movie in the franchise, Underworld Awakening; Brit Nonso Anozie, as one part of a team led by Liam Neeson, who find themselves in a battle for their lives against a pack of rogue wolves on the frozen tundra of the Alaskan wilderness; Sherri Shepherd in One For The MoneyIce Cube in Rampart, and others.

And these are all films we’ve covered here on S&A.

There have also been a number of film festivals in the last 3 months that premiered several black films, most of them covered here as well, like Spike Lee’s Red Hook SummerAva DuVernay’s Middle Of NowhereSheldon Candis’ LUVSam Pollard’s Slavery By Another NameTerence Nance’s An Oversimplification Of Her BeautyBenh Zeitlin’s Beasts Of The Southern Wild, Russ Parr’s The Under Shepherd and many others.

But unfortunately, I’m not looking at any of those either; just those films with distribution that saw general commercial releases in USA theaters during the first 3 months of the year.

According to Box Office Mojo, roughly 151 films have been released in theaters thus far this year, and of those 151, I counted 10 films (or about 7.2%) that are what I’m calling “black films;” A pathetic number that doesn’t even match the % of black people in the country’s population, but not at all shocking; at least it shouldn’t be shocking. We lament this lack of representation almost daily across the web-osphere.

And of those 11 films, the top grosser is Red Tails, which has raked in just under $50 million in box office since its January 20 release; or exactly $49,709,864. There has been some talk on the web about George Lucas losing money on the film, given his initial $50-something million production budget investment (add another 30+ million for P&A costs). But I’ll stop you right there and say that the film has yet to be released on DVD/Blu-ray/VOD, so it remains to be seen just how well it’ll do on the home video market. It might actually do very well there, and in time, Lucas will make his money back, and possibly even a profit. 

So I wouldn’t cry any tears for him; certainly not at this stage.And even if he does lose money on it, I wouldn’t cry anyway. There’s a lot more where that came from I’m sure!

Behind Red Tails is Tyler Perry’s Good Deeds – his first stab at being a leading man, and really carrying a film minus the theatrics of one Madea. And as I noted in a previous post, his fans just didn’t seem as interested in this kind of Tyler Perry movie, as the film managed $34.5 million, becoming his second worst performing film in his entire library (Daddy’s Little Girls is his worst perfomer to date). I’m really now curious to see how his fans receive him in Alex Cross, if at all.

Number 3 on the list is Joyful Noise with $30.9 million in box office for the year. I don’t know what its budget was, but I’ll take a guess and say that the studio behind the movie was probably expecting it to do better.

Next on the list is Eddie Murphy’s A Thousand Words which has been in theaters for almost a month and, not-so-surprisingly, has managed a dismal $16.6 million. Box Office Mojo says its budget was $40 million. Eddie’s salary alone was probably close to how much the film has made. I wouldn’t even be in any rush to see this streaming on Netflix.

And after A Thousand Words, there’s a significant drop, as we move into this year’s indie offerings: the inspirational high school football documentary Undefeated ($426,296), the adult animated feature Chico & Rita ($292,444), the Harry Belafonte documentary Sing Your Song ($42,589), Corey Grant’s Dysfunctional Friends (10,624), Nick Dalmacy Scorn ($1,206), and the Papua New Guinea-set surfing documentary Splinters (which I couldn’t find any box office numbers for).

And that’s about it! Did I miss anything?

I didn’t include Pariah because it was actually released late in December last year, before expanding to other cities early this year. There’s also Joe Doughrity’s comedy, Cornerstore, but that first opened late last summer, so it’s really a 2011 film.

Anything else?

There might have been some local theatrical runs that I just didn’t know about because they weren’t in my neck of the woods.

But over all, a so-so first quarter; certainly better than this time last year, when the highest grossing ‘black film” of the first quarter of 2011 was Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son, which had pulled in $37.5 million. And next on the list was the indie dramedy The Heart Specialist with Zoe Saldana, Wood Harris, Method Man and others, which had grossed $1.1 million.

But while box office numbers are more impressive in 2012, I can’t quite say the same for the caliber of films – specifically those at the big budget studio level. The indies (especially the documentaries), as is usually the case, is where the more interesting films lie. 

The rest of the year should be stronger, with a number of those impressive festival-played independent titles I mentioned getting distribution and release dates (and others I didn’t mention), proving once again that the indies are where we should be looking for freshness; of course AFFRM’s 3rd release, Restless City begins its run later this month; and we also have studio films like Think Like A Man and the Sparkle remake to look forward to (or not look forward to, depending on your POV).

Then there’s Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, although that’s supposed to be a late December release.

And there are still a number of film festivals coming up that should see the premieres of several films I’ve been tracking over the last year that haven’t debuted yet; and hopefully some of those films will be acquired for distribution and released later in the year.

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