Last weekend, the box office had a party crasher the industry should have anticipated as a guest. “The Hunger Games” reign came to an end from none other then another book adaptation. Though a very loose adaptation, the African American romantic comedy “Think Like A Man” opened around $33 million. This surprised Hollywood and numerous box office analysts. However, it really shouldn’t have caught anyone off guard.
Hollywood seems to be skeptical of box office success of any movie that isn’t meant for Caucasian men. In 2005, Tyler Perry shocked the industry with his come from nowhere smash hit “Diary of a Mad Black Woman.” You would have thought Hollywood would’ve noticed. At least with “The Passion of the Christ,” Hollywood took note and the Mel Gibson’s crucifixion film gave unintended birth to the torture porn genre. However, how many African American movie will continue to over-perform at the box office to the surprise of the industry? Through the years as Perry’s films kept posting big profits for his low budget, niche targeted movies, box office analysts referred to Tyler Perry’s seventh release as a ‘surprise hit.’
“Think Like a Man” was an advice book from popular comic and talk show host Steve Harvey. And no wonder Hollywood was caught off guard by the success of Steve Harvey. A majority of radio affiliates for his talk show program are located in the Southeastern part of the country. You cannot get farther away from the glitz of Hollywood then the South.
This issue of a clueless Hollywood underestimating niche markets goes beyond just race, but includes gender. During the previous years, the industry has been ‘surprised’ that women can open a film. In 2008, studio execs were questioning if “The Sex and the City” movie could be a hit while appealing to just women. Their question was answered with its blockbuster gross and mildly successful sequel. Even last year, some in the industry doubted the box office potential of “Bridesmaids” and “The Help” only to be proven wrong.
Now I’m wondering, how many “John Carter” flops will the Entertainment industry have to endure before they realize low budget, micro targeting keeps the Hollywood profit margins healthy? (There wasn’t any demand from the public for an adaptation.) Looking at the audience for “Man,” females comprised 63% of the audience, while 62% were 30 years of age and over. The film had strong exit polling ratings scoring an A with CinemaScore. This audience has had few options to see movies in 2012. I enjoyed almost every other week movies targeted to me such films as ‘The Grey,’ ‘Haywire,’ ‘Safe House,’ ‘Ghost Rider,’ ‘Act of Valor,’ ‘21 Jump Street,’ ‘Casa De Mi Padre,’ ‘Jeff, Who Lives at Home,’ ‘Wrath of Titans,’ ‘American Reunion,’ and ‘Cabin in the Woods.’ This year, African Americans only had Tyler Perry’s “Good Deeds” and the limited release film ‘’Woman Thou Art Loused: On the Seventh Day.’’ When an underserved audience is finally catered to with a movie supplemented with a huge awareness campaign, they will show up. A real question is why is the Latino market so ignored? (That’s another blog post.)
Despite what some assume, “Think Like A Man” isn’t a Tyler Perry movie (like some of my movie buff friends and acquaintances have labeled it). Just because a movie’s cast is predominantly African American, it’s not a “Tyler Perry film.” In fact, this comedy takes a swipe at the Tyler Perry plot structure. African Americans have had their niche film released toward their demographic through the years pre-Tyler Perry with quality films like “love jones,” “The Best Man,” and “The Brothers”
The industry can put segments of society in boxes with their ‘token’ African Americans, their objectification of women, the crazy Christians, the stereotypical gays, and the saucy Latinos, but some are missing a serious business opportunity. When the industry is ‘surprised’ when a film succeeds by precisely targeting a percentage of the population, they should rethink their business model. With numerous films running over budget and under profit, Hollywood doesn’t have the luxury to ignore. And as the skeptics label an all black cast as a Tyler Perry film, it’s the true testament to the lack of diversity Hollywood must overcome.