By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act April 24, 2013 at 3:58PM
A thought... given recent project greenlights, where "black cinema" is concerned, I'm reminded of the late 1990s/early 2000s, when rom-coms or rom-drams (romantic dramas) with all-black casts, were popular: Hav Plenty, Love Jones, The Best Man, Love & Basketball, Brown Sugar, Two Can Play That Game, The Wood, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, and on, and on, and on...
I'm now wondering if we just might be seeing the beginnings of another period in which Hollywood studio-backed "relationship/romance dramedies" that tell stories about black people, dominate the black cinema landscape - maybe thanks in large part to the success of the film that we might look back on years from now as the kickstarter of this new *era* in black cinema: the very successful Think Like A Man (TLAM); the $12 million movie that grossed over $95 million worldwide (most of that in the USA). Although there have been other black rom-coms that came before it, in the last decade - but none that has seen anywhere close to the kind of box office success TLAM enjoyed - a key point.
Other studios now seem to want to replicate Think Like A Man's success, with their own black rom-coms, like David E. Talbert's Baggage Claim at Fox Searchlight - a project that seemed to be all-but-buried. It was first announced in 2010, but was soon followed by Fox Searchlight's statement that the studio was "pulling back from its foray into black-themed films." Why? Well, the last few "black-themed" films at that time that had been distributed by the studio hadn't exactly set the box office on fire - namely, Just Wright and Our Family Wedding, each grossing only about $20 million in domestic box office, as well as Notorious ($37 million gross, on an estimated $18 million budget) and I Think I Love My Wife ($13 million domestic on an $11 million budget).
Baggage Claim was seemingly resuscitated last year, with Paula Patton in the lead (Taraji P. Henson was initially attached).
And then there's the recently-announced remake of the late 1980s relationship dramedy, About Last Night, which follows a relationship, from one-night-stand, to monogamous relationship, to cohabitation, to novelty wearing off, to problems arising, to relationship ends, to boy and girl eventually reuniting.
It's coming from some of the Think Like A Man crew (super producer Will Packer, and stars Michael Ealy, Kevin Hart, Regina Hall, to be released by Sony/Screen Gems).
And also of note is the sequel to one of those late 1990s films that I referenced above, The Best Man, is in production right now, with the current title, The Best Man Holiday.
Producer Tracey Edmonds recently revealed that there's a Jumping The Broom sequel in the works, as well as a feature project that will be inspired by the Basketball Wives reality TV show. She's developing that with Shaunie O'Neal (ex-wife of Shaquille O'Neal), and it will be penned by Jumping The Broom co-writer Elizabeth Hunter.
The common concern when this was first announced last year was how the reality TV show would translate to screen.
Ms O'Neal set the record straight about the upcoming film, hoping to calm any fears you might have for what the completed feature project will look, sound and feel like, stating that it's not a "Basketball Wives" movie:
You don’t take a reality show and make it a movie [...] Even though it has to do with basketball life, it’s not actually taking Basketball Wives from TV and making it a movie. And it’s not about women sitting around arguing or lunching all the time. It’s an actual story. It’s a love story. It’s an empowering story. It’s funny. It’s life [...] It’s so nothing like the TV show at all. No comparison.
There's also Lionsgate's big screen adaptation of erotic fiction writer Zane's popular novel Addicted, which follows the trials and tribulations of a successful sex-addicted African American businesswoman. Tasha Smith, Boris Kodjoe, Sharon Leal, Emayatzy Corinealdi and others are starring, with Bille Woodruff directing.
Although that'll probably fall under relationship drama, instead of relationship comedy.
Tina Gordon Chism's rom-com Peeples will beat all the others to theaters, when it's released next month.
Last year, George Tillman Jr's State Street Pictures picked up feature film rights to a book titled Swirling: How to Date, Mate and Relate, Mixing Race, Culture and Creed by pop culture blogger Christelyn D. Karazin and journalist Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn, which sounds like it could be more dramedy than pure comedy, based on the description, but is still very much in the same "relationship" family of films as the others.
And then there's a project that we first reported on in 2009, which has also been given new life, thanks to what I'm calling the Think Like A Man Effect; It's called Ride Along, an Ice Cube project that was originally set up at Warner Bros, in which Cube was to star in as a rogue cop who tries to break off his sister's engagement to an upper-crust white psychiatrist, by inviting his future brother-in-law on a ride-along.
Fast-forward 3 years later to the announcement in 2012 that Universal Pictures had picked up Ride Along out of turnaround from New Line (a Warner Bros subsidiary), and fast-tracked the project, but with some new names attached in front and behind the camera.
Kevin Hart, who's really hot right now, as his name has come up for a handful of projects since TLAM's release; he'll co-star with Cube as a high school security guard who is ready to get married, but must first survive a Training Day-like ride along experience with his bride's tough cop brother, played by Ice Cube, who doesn’t want the marriage to happen and tries to scare Hart's character away.
Tika Sumpter, Jay Pharoah, John Leguizamo and Bryan Callen, co-star, with Tim Story directing, and Will Packer producing.
So the "race play" is officially gone, with the suitor now a black man.
It doesn't sound like your typical rom-com, and may be more of a manhood challenge; but given what's at stake in the above synopsis, I'll include it.
And there are others that I can't recall at the moment...
But success breeds more success; it's no secret how unwilling Studio execs are to take risks on original scripts - especially when they tell stories about black people. So when one kind of project is immensely successful, it shouldn't at all be a surprise when similar projects follow, soon thereafter. We saw this happen in the early 1990s, after the success of John Singleton's Boyz n the Hood, and the string of so-called "hood" films that followed; and we saw it again in the late 1990s/early 2000s, with the rise of what were then collectively referred to as "Buppy movies."
Not my term...
Keep in mind that the majority of the movies I mentioned above (and others I didn't) are all scheduled to be released in the next 12 to 18 months - a relatively short period of time, and quite a rush to get them all in.
If you're a black filmmaker, especially if you're chasing Hollywood studio dreams, are you influenced by what seems like a resurgence of these kinds of movies? Do you find yourself wondering if you should set that sci-fi script aside (please reconsider if you are) and instead work on a rom-com or relationship dramedy?
Not that you writing one is a guarantee of anything. So much else has to happen before your script becomes a film. It'll be a challenge to even get that opportunity to pitch to a studio, if you don't already have a foot in the door. Although private/independent investors might bite if your pitch includes the words "It's like Think Like A Man..." accompanied by a box office chart showing that film's earnings.
Just a thought...