Is Now A Good Time To Pitch Black Rom-Coms?

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by Tambay A. Obenson
July 31, 2012 4:02 PM
7 Comments
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Just a quick 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 PlentyLove JonesThe 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 "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's 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 has enjoyed this year - 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 a couple of months ago, with Paula Patton in the lead (Taraji P. Henson was initially attached), and Derek Luke co-starring.

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 very much in the same family as Think Like A Man actually, and I was really surprised that the TLAM crew (super producer Will Packer, and stars Michael Ealy, Kevin Hart, Regina Hall) chose this as a project to remake. But then I realized that it's maybe because it falls underneath the same umbrella as TLAM does, that Sony/Screen Gems is running with it.

Very recently, 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 2 few weeks ago that Universal Pictures had picked up Ride Along out of turnaround from New Line (a Warner Bros subsidiary), and is fast-tracking the project, aiming for an October production start, with Ice Cube still starring, but with some new names attached in front and behind the camera.

First, 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 second grade teacher who is ready to get married, but first he must survive a Training Day-like ride along experience with his future bride's tough cop brother, who doesn’t want the marriage to happen and tries to scare off the suitor."

So the "race play" is officially gone, with the suitor now a black man.

Second, also fresh off the success of Think Like A ManTim Story will direct Ride Along.

And third, also riding high from the success of Think Like A Man, producer Will Packer will co-produce the project via his Rainforest Films banner with Ice Cube's Cube Vision, and Matt Alvarez's LBI Entertainment.

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 finally, of course, there's the Think Like A Man sequel, which was recently, officially greenlit; although details on what stories exactly the sequel will tell aren't yet public. 

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.

And this is why I ask if it's a good time to pitch black rom-coms, if you're a screenwriter or filmmaker. Of course, it's not THAT easy. So much else has to happen; it'll be a challenge to even get that opportunity to pitch, 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 rise. And packaging your project with talent before approaching studios/financiers, might also be a tad less difficult.

Just a thought...

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7 Comments

  • ALM | July 31, 2012 10:16 PMReply

    While I am glad that it is the "season" for positive, African American themed movies, I am still disheartened that there has to be a "season" where our movies are "hot". The same type of cycle happens in the supermodel world, where a select few models of color are heralded "supermodels", and then magazines decide that they have had enough brown skinned people on the cover for the new few years. I have read articles where magazine editors were quoted as saying that they didn't want brown skinned models to have two covers back to back, yet none one minds Caucasian models having the majority of the covers even though the majority of the planet is a variation of a brown skin tone.

    "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)."

    The problem with the movies above is the same problem that plagues 70% of what Hollywood churns out today, an EXTREME lack of quality. Just looking at "I Think I Love My Wife", I saw the movie in the theater. The premise was a good idea, but in the end the movie made me cringe as it boiled down to Kerri Washington standing around in lingerie using the f word to try to seduce Chris Rock. It was like looking straight into the mind of an adult straight male without any true plot formation. Chris, Gina and Kerri are all VERY talented, and they deserved better.

  • Nikki | July 31, 2012 8:01 PMReply

    I completely agree with Adam. I want to see more horror, science fi and fantasy. I'm sick one Rom com's in general not just Black ones.

  • Adam Scott Thompson | July 31, 2012 5:49 PMReply

    At times, that seems like it's all we do -- rom-coms. In fact, most of our narratives are about relationships -- getting in, maintaing, getting out, etc -- whether they're meant to be funny or not. I'd like to see more black-cast films with plots not necessarily related to romance. Sci-fi, for instance, or just a plain-Jane dramatic piece (no single ladies, please!). I liked TLAM, but I don't know if I need a sequel.

  • ALM | July 31, 2012 10:20 PM

    @ Adam. I completely agree with you on the variety. The sad thing is, it seems as if people of color have to nearly sell their first born to even get a positive comedy greenlit in Hollywood. **Sigh**

  • Orville | July 31, 2012 5:18 PMReply

    I don't mind romantic comedies but I think they need to be interesting with a twist and not be generic. The problem with a lot of black romantic comedies like Queen Latifah's film Just Wright it was predictable. The audience already knew what was going to happen by watching the trailer. Now, if Hollywood really wants to try something different why not make a black lesbian romantic comedy starring Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson, or Beyonce? I think that would be interesting something different with a twist.

  • Anon | July 31, 2012 5:09 PMReply

    TLAM was great and I hope the second is just as good and does just as well. What gets smart black audiences to the theater -- those who also watch mainstream fare with white and black actors -- is a good, solid story, and a really strong cast with actual talent. TLAM had all of that. We don't go for gimmicks or big names just because white Hollywood thinks they're big with black people (i.e. Ice Cube, Common, Queen LaTifah). Even though past movies, such as those mentioned in the article, didn't have the same crossover appeal at the time, what they all had in common was excellent casting of strong actors and really good storytelling with characters that the audience cares about. That's what we need to see more of.

  • ALM | July 31, 2012 10:18 PM

    @ Anon. I agree with your comment 1,000%

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