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A Black Film Renaissance In 2013? Here's A Snapshot Of The Year In Black Cinema

by Tambay A. Obenson
December 16, 2013 1:01 PM
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The Butler

Expect a much more thorough write-up towards the end of the year, or early next year. Consider this a snapshot of how black cinema did in 2013, with 2 weeks left until the year ends, and the last black film of the year, now in theaters as of this past weekend - Tyler Perry's Madea Christmas.

I'll also compare this year's stats with previous years, in consideration of all the media proclamations that 2013 ushered in something of a new beginning ("new wave") for black cinema, suggesting that, in the future, we might be looking back at 2013 as the year when black cinema finally got its wings.

I'm defining "black film" simply as cinema in which the central character (or characters) that the stories revolve around, are of African descent - regardless of whether the filmmakers are all of African descent. If it's a documentary, the same definition applies. People of African descent have to be central to whatever unfolds.

So, for example, a film like 2 Guns didn't make the cut. And neither did Captain Phillips. Both featured black characters in significant roles, but, ultimately, both films weren't centered entirely around those characters. There are other similar examples.

The list of films I narrowed the entire year down to are at the bottom of this post.

So how did black cinema do in 2013? Here's a snapshot, with data as of last week Friday, December 13.

- 48 out of 641 films released this year (or about 7%) were black films.

- 22 of those 48 films were directed by filmmakers of African descent; 7 of the 22 are women filmmakers; 8 of the 22 were first-time feature film directors.
- 33 of the 48 films were fiction; 8 of those 30 were based on real life people/events; The vast majority were dramas (of the 48, there was 1 sci-fi movie, 1 horror, 1 comedy horror, and 1 musical), suggesting, as we've noted several times in the past, that when it comes to black cinema, the more fantastical genres (sci-fi, horror, thriller, fantasy, etc) remain woefully untapped with regards to feature films.
Tyler Perry directed 2 of the 48, and produced a 3rd.
- 30 of the 48 saw their widest releases at less than 100 theaters13 saw their widest releases at over 1000 theaters3 saw their widest releases at over 3000 theaters.
- Average number of days in theatrical run for all 48 films: 60, with the max being 182 and the minimum being 7.
- The highest grossing (domestic) black film of the year is Lee Daniels' The Butler at $116 million, making it the only black film to gross over $100 million this year. The top 5 grossers of the year after The Butler: 42, Best Man Holiday, After Earth, Tyler Perry's Temptation. The most fascinating thing about the top 5 is that After Earth (a high-profile, $130 million movie starring one of the world's biggest stars) is in 4th place. 
- Total box office (domestic) for the top 5 black films combined is less than the box office take for the #1 grossing film of the year: $391.9 million, compared to $409 million for Iron Man 3.
- Total box office (domestic) for all 48 black films is $620 million, or about 6.1% of the total 2013 box office for all films ($10.1 billion). Again, figures are of last week Friday's results, although I wouldn't expect those figures to change much at all, even if I included this weekend's (and the next 2 weekend's) numbers.
- 12 of the 48 black films were rated PG13; 12 were R-rated; The rest were Unrated.

- 6 of the 48 black films were released by Lionsgate; 4 by The Weinstein CompanyIFC, Fox Searchlight and Variance released 3 each2 each by AFFRMOscilloscope, and SonyArtMattan released 2. And Phase 4 Films released 1.

There's your 2013 in black cinema, albeit just a snapshot! 

I may have missed one or two films, using Box Office Mojo and IMDB as my primary sources. But the overwhelming bulk of black films released theatrically this year, are included here. If you're a distributor with a film that should be on this list, but isn't, please let me know. May I also suggest that if you are a distributor with a film released theatrically, and your film isn't listed with any of the major box office reporting sites, like a Box Office Mojo, it really should be.

As I said, expect a more thorough follow-up post, with even more stats - once I've compiled all that I need to - some time in the next couple of weeks. And also expect comparisons to previous years - especially recent years.

Here's the full list of 48 films:


12 Years a Slave

20 Feet from Stardom

A Band Called Death

A Haunted House

After Earth

American Promise

An Oversimplification of Her Beauty

Baggage Claim

Better Mus' Come

Big Words

Black Nativity

Blue Caprice

Call Me Kuchu

Fire in the Blood

Free Angela and All Political Prisoners

Fruitvale Station

Gimme the Loot

Go For Sisters

God Loves Uganda

Holla II

I'm In Love With a
Church Girl

Jamel Shabazz Street Photographer

Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain

La Playa D.C.

La Pirogue

Lee Daniels' The Butler

Let the Fire Burn


Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

Mother of George

Mumia: Long Distance Revolutionary


The Best Man Holiday

The Call

The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete

The Iran Job

The Square

The Trials of Muhammad Ali

The We and the I

Tyler Perry Presents Peeples

Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas

Tyler Perry's Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor

Una Noche

Venus and Serena

War Witch

Welcome to Pine Hill

Winnie Mandela
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  • Renee Carter | December 31, 2013 3:59 AMReply

    Troop 491: Adventures of the Muddy Lions (2013)

  • Toya | December 30, 2013 8:17 PMReply

    Where's "Half a Yellow Sun"?

  • Jesper | December 19, 2013 2:46 AMReply

    What about things Never said?

  • Jessica | December 18, 2013 9:13 AMReply

    This blog also covered Home by jono oliver.
    A black first time director.
    That movie came out this year and has distribution.

  • CareyCarey | December 16, 2013 11:58 PMReply

    If it ain't making money it ain't making sense.

    I know, I know, it's about "art" and telling our stories that need to be told. Okay, I get that, but the big boys are looking at the big dollars. So I'd be interested in seeing profit numbers. For instance, I believe Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain was produced for less than a million, it's profit was several times that amount.

    On the other hand, After Earth, although one of the top five, didn't make it's investors smile. Anyway, what else can we glean from the $391.9 million earned by the top 5 black films of the year? The Butler, 42, Best Man Holiday, After Earth and Tyler Perry's Temptation?

    Well, if I was an investor who was considering investing in a black film, I'd pay close attention to a few names. I mean, paying attention to Lee Daniels and Tyler Perry makes sense to me because they make money. And, it's been proven that NO black actor (if he or she is in a black film) can be dependent upon to draw a crowd. Will Smith and Denzel (2 of the biggest stars on this earth) has proven that to be true. Heck, Forest Whitaker is a strong actor and The Butler did very well, but oh lord, what about Black Nativity? Yep, Forest couldn't save it.

    So although 2013 may have been a banner year for black films (in the eye's of many), the devil's in the details.

  • CareyCarey | December 31, 2013 7:39 AM

    Saadiyah, I didn't see you sitting here (I don't know how that happened?). Anyway, I wholeheartedly disagree. Well, answer me this. Do you believe the uptick of "slave" films that are now in production (and being developed and some in the can), are so by shear happenstance?

    Furthermore, do you believe the names Kevin Hart, Lee Daniels and the actors and director involved with "Friutvale" would gain as much attention as they're now getting, if their films didn't show a profit?

    Well, again, in my opinion, if it ain't making money it ain't making sense. AND.... if you ain't making money your name becomes past-tense. Crossing our fingers will only result in cramped knuckles *big smile*

  • saadiyah | December 17, 2013 1:12 AM

    I don't think the money or amount of movies made this year has any effect on what happens next year or the year after. They quantity and quality of Black cinema fluctuates each year without rhyme nor reason.

    Whenever something significant happens (such and such star or movie wins an award), they are always predictions made on how it will affect/improve things in the future. Well it almost never changes anything. I don't think it'll be any different next year. The-powers-that-be in HWood may decide to green light more Black projects or they'll decide that they've had enough for a while. The best that we can do is cross our fingers!

  • Mimiluv | December 16, 2013 10:50 PMReply

    Overall it seemed black cinema had a diverse range of stories being told in 2013. I don't think it's a new beginning but progress. Hopefully this will continue as we own and tell our own stories. Hey this year definitely beats 2003 or any decade before then. Would you be able to compile such a long list in previous years? Doubt it. Anywho I am looking to forward to chiwetal ejiofor or idris taking home that best male lead oscar but it will prolly go to some random white actor, lame.

  • katie | December 16, 2013 8:50 PMReply

    I don't know how well blacks have done because you didn't compare it to the previous year. I however will base my answer on the percentage, the nuance of the stories, and whether we own said stories. Based on that, I still say we have a lot note work to do. If and when we get out of this economic downturn, it'll be back to business for ole hollywhite. None of these films mean much if we don't even own our stories. That can only happen by owning our media. That only comes from organizing, which comes from realizing we need to stop asking whites for a platform and build our own because don't owe us anything. Which comes from us believing in our work. If blacks did that, then we would be making some SERIOUS headway.

    But until then, no we are not doing well. More work to do.

  • Daryl | December 16, 2013 8:41 PMReply

    These lists are irrelevant now because movies being played on the silver screen is no longer the main distribution model with the internet. These post and list like this are more of a class issue on the entertainment front, it's saying your film only has importance because it was released to the cinemas. It's all about telling your story and putting it out there for people can get a chance to see it, it doesn't matter where they see it at. Thse studio model is a relic from the past still trying to hold on to it's glory days. This is a new age where artist can control their work and distribution.

  • IntrospectiveMan | December 16, 2013 4:21 PMReply

    Question: Is Shaka King's "Newlyweeds" another film that could be included on this list?

  • Reinaldo | December 16, 2013 3:45 PMReply

    ArtMattan Films released two titles, La Playa D.C. and The Pirogue, this one was released at Film Forum.

  • Tambay | December 16, 2013 4:02 PM

    Thanks Reinaldo. I had "La Playa" but didn't include "Pirogue." But I've added it now.

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