‘The Perfect Guy’ is a Hit, But That Doesn’t Mean Black Films Are Mainstream
The Perfect Guy, a film that dominated the box office this past weekend is a black film with an appealing cast and a story that for all intents and purposes would draw a hefty crowd that would comprise of a mostly black audience. Sanaa Lathan, Michael Ealy and Morris Chestnut have enjoyed a relatively successful career but their ability garner replicate that success in mainstream movies hasn’t been an easy feat despite their lengthy and substantial resumes.
Lathan and Chestnut are both graduates of the 90’s hit flick The Best Man and Ealy was most recently attached to the widely popular Think Like a Man franchise and the 2014 sleeper hit, About Last Night.
There was very little doubt that The Perfect Guy would perform quite well during its first weekend opening mainly due to the popularity of the three main stars and the fact that black audiences are notoriously loyal when it comes to supporting black films. Tyler Perry made millions banking on the hope that his films would never cease to attract the attention of the black community – and his confidence obviously paid off. He received criticism for his sub par fare – notoriously from Spike Lee who in a 2011 interview characterized Perry’s style of filmmaking as “coonery” and “buffoonery”. Lee eventually apologized and acknowledged that both men have very different approaches when it comes to uplifting black cinema. But the debate did spark an important conversation about the standards black films are held to compared to more mainstream vehicles.
The sentiment has always been that studio heads don’t expect black filmmakers to dish out quality stories and in depth characters that are relatable and transferable to a broad market. Only a handful of films with a mostly black cast have been able to break the mold – back in 2009, Precious made Gabourey Sidibe a household name and enjoyed major appreciation from both black and white audiences. White people tend to like black films that depict the oppressiveness of the black experience in America. That explains the roving appetite for 2011’s The Help. However, Lee Daniels’ The Butler not only had a main cast that comprised of mostly black actors but also a supporting cast that was quite mixed which helped to spurn it’s tremendous marketability.
The truth is that white audiences still don’t pay money to see black films and black audiences will see films that may not even have a single black cast member. But the main issue with this realization is that a lot of the black films that get studio backing, due to the names attached, are not very good.
The Wrap published a piece about the impressive debut of The Perfect Guy by hinting that Hollywood should start “paying attention” to movies that feature a primarily black cast -especially since the summer of 2015 was a good one for black films – thanks to Straight Outta of Compton and War Room. Yes, it is true that all three films performed better than expected but the idea that this is some sort of phenomenon that needs to be explored and acknowledged is both ludicrous and misleading.
Black films have never been challenged with dismal numbers at the box office, especially in the first two weeks of release. There is and always will be an audience for them – even when the reviews are scathingly bad. The Perfect Guy is a perfect example of a bad film that received a failing grade from all the reputable trades and respected critics but still managed to beat its competition. It is highly unlikely that it will maintain the momentum for much longer but the fact is that it had an impressive opening thanks to theatergoers who were basically all African-American isn’t a mind-blowing concept.
Articles like the one from The Wrap give the impression that black film actors are enjoying the same kind of acceptance as their TV contemporaries, or even worse their Caucasian adversaries, which couldn’t be further from the truth.
Award season, is drawing near, and as film festivals begin to unleash their acquired roster of gems, it is glaringly clear, that white actors still dominate the circuit with very little color sprinkled in the mix. The struggle for equality in an industry that refuses to accommodate the idea of a multi-ethnic cast carrying a film is still very much a thriving issue that won’t vanish anytime soon.
Perhaps the author of the piece in question should consider reading what Chris Rock had to say about Hollywood’s color problem. Rock penned a memorable piece for The Hollywood Reporter last winter where he blasted the very industry that he allots his career to for its blatant disregard for black talent.
Movies with black casts are not suddenly “red-hot”, that would imply that they are crossing over in ways that would give up and coming actors of color the kind of opportunities that their white contemporaries take for granted. This isn’t happening. Yet.
Black people are still only seeing black films and black actors still don’t get the chance to become breakout stars and ingénues because not enough white people support the mostly black films they are in – whether they are good or passable.
This is the state of affairs today and pretending things are improving based on box office receipts is unbearably contrived and flat out condescending.