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'Think Like a Man': Is this a watershed moment for black films?

April 23, 2012 |  7:30 am

"Think Like a Man," starring Kevin Hart and Meagan Good, won the box office this weekend; the black-oriented romantic comedy took down "The Hunger Games"By most box-office standards, "Think Like a Man" didn't hit any milestones this weekend. In fact, the movie didn't even break any records within the more limited world of black-oriented films. The biggest opening weekends in the category still belong to the likes of "Norbit" and Tyler Perry's "Madea Goes to Jail," which each topped "Man's" $33 million.

But Screen Gems' "Think Like a Man," the ensemble romantic comedy based on Steve Harvey's bestseller, proved a subtly true point as it took down "The Hunger Games." The Tim Story film joined the ranks of the top-earning black movies despite not being a broad comedy, a la "Norbit" and "Madea." Instead, it's a sweet romantic comedy, a genre regarded as marginal within the realm of black films. "How Stella Got Her Groove Back" and "Brown Sugar," two reasonably high-profile efforts, were each considered successful -- and they opened to far less than "Man," both by average and total.

For years, the conventional wisdom in Hollywood has been that, outside of broad comedies, black audiences can't drive a big hit. That probably should have been debunked long ago, but if you look at how often mainstream development slates ignore black stories -- and how little even those that pay attention spend on those movies (see under: the modest budgets for Screen Gems' and Lionsgate's films in this realm) -- it hasn't really been debunked at all.

"Man" offers inarguable proof against all that. Not only did the movie win the weekend, but it thrashed a similar offering aimed at whites: Nicholas Sparks' adaptation "The Lucky One" -- which is also a romance, also from a famous author, and also with some star power. Yet it grossed barely two-thirds of the total of "Man" (and on nearly 1,000 more screens).

Naysayers will argue that "Think Like a Man" racked up the dollars by copying the template of white-oriented romcoms such as "Valentine's Day" and "He’s Just Not That Into you." Those movies also used big ensemble casts, interlocking stories, happy endings and pre-awareness of one form or another to drive box office. But the fact of such mimicry kind of proves the point. Black and white audiences, long seen as so different, increasingly want some of the same things.

"Think Like a Man" also smartly threw in plenty of screen time for the men, making the movie more palatable to boyfriends and husbands. It's easy to wince at the clueless bumbling of some of these male characters. But then, there's barely a white romantic comedy without these types.

One film does not a trend make, and not every movie will have the bestseller cachet (or LeBron James support) of "Think Like a Man." Still, it’s clear from this weekend that a glass ceiling has begun to be broken. The question is which studios will poke their heads through.

RELATED:

Movie review: Gender wars entertain in "Think Like a Man"

"Think Like A Man's" Will Packer: Hollywood's new buzz king

Box Office: "Think Like a Man" rakes in surprising $33 million

--Steven Zeitchik
twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Meagan Good in "Think Like A Man." Credit: Screen Gems


 
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