Despite the Oscar pedigree of Director Kathryn Bigelow, Detroit failed to make much of an impact at the box office. Estimates have it only managing a meager $8 million weekend. Meanwhile, Girls Trip continues its fantastic run. The Regina Hall/Queen Latifah/Jada Pinkett Smith/Tiffany Haddish comedy is now pacing ahead of Bridesmaids in their respective third weeks. There’s a lesson here if Hollywood is finally ready to pay attention.
Detroit was promoted and has been billed a can’t miss Oscar contender. That might still be the case — Oscar nominees rarely make a lot of box office noise — but the lack of audience for Detroit might be the result of another factor. Call it fatigue of the constant stream of inhumane treatment of blacks on the big screen.
For black moviegoers, films like 12 Years a Slave, Birth of a Nation, Fruitvale Station and Detroit don’t resemble escapism. They’re far too close to reality. What’s the selling point for black audiences to pay to see Detroit, a movie about black men getting killed and a massive police cover-up? Is that based in 1967 or 2017?
As well meaning as the film might be to show how little progress has been made on some fronts, who needs to pay money for that reminder? That can just as easily be accomplished by turning on the nightly news or scanning your Facebook feed.
It’s almost like Hollywood executives haven’t managed to crack the code that producers like Will Packer (Think Like a Man) or filmmakers including Chris Rock (Top Five) and Gina Prince-Bythewood (Beyond the Lights) have long since figured out. Just like girls, black audiences just want to have fun. Especially in the wake of so many stories about unfair treatment and an almost aggressive stance by those charged with protecting them.
That fun is played out in a variety of ways. Whether inspiring like Akeelah and the Bee, a thriller like No Good Deed, an action comedy like Ride Along or a relational comedy like The Best Man Holiday, audiences will come out to movies that are departures from the norm. The common thread with those three films? They more than doubled their budget.
Get Out had a $4.5 million budget. It’s the year’s best return on investment with a staggering $175 million gross. This film looked at race not from the familiar confines of slavery and civil rights, but from a modern perspective. Audiences responded and flocked to see one of the year’s best films.
Hollywood consistently seems puzzled with what does and what doesn’t connect with black audiences. Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan’s first collaboration on Fruitvale Station definitely raised awareness of their rising talents. But the film about the last day of Bay Area resident Oscar Grant III, 22, who was gunned down by police in 2008, only earned $16 million.
Their next collaboration, Creed, a feel good story about Apollo Creed’s son, fully connected with audiences and brought in $110 million off a $35 million budget. Expect even bigger things for their latest project, next year’s highly anticipated Black Panther film for Marvel Studios.
It’s not just black audiences of course. It’s hard to imagine many white moviegoers wanting to see films where most of the white characters are portrayed so cruel and awful. Films like Creed and Girls Trip are more inviting to all races without casting one race as the good guys or the bad guys.
With the news this week that Scott Cooper (Out of the Furnace) is planning a film on the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., it seems Hollywood largely still doesn’t get it. And when Hellhound on His Trail inevitably fails, Hollywood will once again be confused as to why a can’t miss prospect failed to find an audience.