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Tim Story: The Top-Grossing Black Director Many Apparently Still Aren't Familiar With

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act January 19, 2014 at 5:25PM

Tim Story: The Top-Grossing Black Director Many Apparently Still Aren't Familiar With
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Tim Story

Will "Think Like A Man" Put Tim Story On Hollywood's A list?

That's what the Los Angeles Times asked in a piece that was published 2 years ago, after that film shocked the industry with an impressive opening weekend, en route to a near-$100 million box office cume. His latest effort, Ride Along, opened this weekend to an impressive $41 million box office take, easily winning the number 1 slot of the weekend.

The short answer to the question posed by the Los Angeles Times, two years later? Probably not.

The long answer... 

Don't get me wrong, my short answer isn't a knock on the film or Tim Story's abilities as a director. 

Investigate the system within which he works, and its history, and you'll find all you need to know there.

Consider this: the fact that the question was being asked in 2012, after Story had made 5 studio pictures, all of them relatively successful in the long run (compared to budget), is telling of how much work still needs to be done in terms of equal opportunities for black filmmakers compared to their white contemporaries. 

The 5 studio movies directed by story as of that LA Times 2012 piece, had then collectively grossed close to $900 million worldwide (around $1 billion if adjusted for inflation - although, the 5 studio pictures are now 6, including this weekend's number 1 movie, Ride Along, which added an impressive $41 million to that growing tally). I'd say that there aren't many directors of ANY COLOR working today who can boast those stats. And even still, he's the only director of African descent working within the studio system that can claim to be a member of that elite club - his main competition being the prolific Tyler Perry, who's made twice as many films (13) in about the same period of time, but yet lags behind Story in terms of total worldwide box office.

Yes, Story's total worldwide box office gross leads the short list of black directors working within the studio system today - more than Antoine Fuqua, F. Gary Gray, Spike Lee, John Singleton and others - a list that I'd be remiss if I didn't point out its lack of black women directors.

Granted Story's figures are helped thanks to the 2 Fantastic Four movies he helmed (I believe he's the ONLY African American director to be given a shot at directing a mega-budgeted superhero movie) - films that I found underwhelming, and certainly didn't rake in anywhere near Avengers- or Iron Man-style numbers; but I can't blame him entirely for the under-performance of both films; it starts with the script (neither of which he wrote), and the casting (which I thought lacked, starting with Jessica Alba). Both films felt more like Saturday morning series on some Kids TV network.

But, again, I can't put the underwhelming critical response to each film entirely on his shoulders. 

So let's talk box office: The first one grossed $330 million worldwide on a $100 million budget; and the second grossed $290 million on a $130 million budget. And I'd guess that both films have since done fairly well in the home video space (DVD/Blu-ray/VOD/Digital Download) for the studio.

Barbershop (the film that we could say launched his studio career - he'd made an indie or two prior) was a surprise hit, both critically and commercially; Taxi (Queen Latifah, Jimmy Fallon) didn't fair as well (it just wasn't a good movie) but it still more than doubled its budget at the box office globally; and Think Like A Man grossed over $96 million (globally - about 98% of that was in the USA alone), on a measly $12 million budget. 

Now add Ride Along's surprising $41 million opening weekend - en route to who-knows-what in terms of total box office.

I can't help but feel that if Story was a white director, the question posed by the LA Times would not be a question at all.

Ok, so maybe Story wouldn't necessarily be an "A-lister" if he were white (we'll never know obviously), BUT, at the very least, I think he'd have been given far more opportunities than he has been. The last time he'd been behind the camera to helm a project (prior to Think Like A Man) was in 2008, on the Forest Whitaker drama Hurricane Season, which The Weinstein Company pushed directly to DVD, skipping theaters. So, if you take that into consideration (that the film wasn't released in theaters), it means that it had been 5 years since Story's last big screen release, prior to Think Like A Man; 6 years if you're counting from the year the film was actually shot.

That's a lengthy time between projects for a director working within the Hollywood studio system.

And even with the success of Think Like A Man, and now, Ride Along, which is likely on its way to a decent box office return given its $41 million opening, it's uncertain what his next project will be! I'd assume he's at least getting meetings with studio decision makers, who are considering him for upcoming projects. And based on the LA Times piece, my assumptions appear to be correct. 

To wit:

The movie, released by Sony’s Screen Gems, has put Story back on the map. He’s taking meetings with top executives at studios including Warners, DreamWorks, MGM and Lionsgate. The good news is that the projects he’s being offered aren’t just black character comedies. Having made a pair of superhero films that required a lot of visual effects, Story has the credentials to helm an action comedy or a buddy picture, two of the most popular studio comedy subgenres.

All gravy right? Not quite. After Think Like Man, he was offered another so-called "black character comedy" in Ride Along, despite all those meetings, because black filmmakers are apparently only *allowed* to direct "black films." Not that there's anything wrong with directing a "black film."

And then I read this part:

But he’s still working at a disadvantage because he’s a black filmmaker at a time when the people who run today’s studios are overwhelmingly white and not especially well-versed or even particularly curious about African American culture. After “Think Like a Man” opened at No. 1, one studio president decided not to mention the film during the studio’s Monday morning production meeting, curious to see how long it would take to surface as a topic of conversation. Fifteen minutes into the meeting, no one had mentioned the film. When the studio boss finally brought it up, asking who had seen it over the weekend, the room was silent. None of the all-white staff had bothered to go see it.

Now, those who've been reading this site long enough know that I'm not one of those who likes to whine about this kind of thing; I find it all unproductive, and would rather invest my time in ideas, causes, initiatives, etc that I think offer potential for the kind of change many of us have been crying for over the last century - especially at the indie level. Forget the insular nature of the studio system.

However, I also realize I have a job to do in informing you all of what I learn about the goings-on within what we call *the industry* that most of us are just not privy to. We're not in these meetings; we hear about them. Sometimes the stories are so beyond the ridiculous that one would think them fiction, and can only blink.

So here we are... as I continue to ask... now what?

One thing I will add is that, I wonder if Tim Story needs to be more of a presence; by that I mean, whoever his publicist is should be branding and parading him any and everywhere possible - especially with the success of Think Like A Man, and now, Ride Along. You'd be surprised by how many people I've come across (black people too) who don't know that Tim Story directed Think Like A Man, and Ride Along, or even know who he is. Many of those same people (audiences mostly) associate the films primarily with their producer, Will Packer (Rainforest Films), than Tim Story. Obviously Packer seems to know how to work the machine we could say (you should follow him on Twitter, because he can be quite active in that social media space), and ensure that there is an awareness of his name, as his face becomes the face of the films he produces, and he starts to get the same kind of "super-producer" props like others already on that level - Jerry Bruckheimer, Brian Grazer, and even Harvey Weinstein to name a few.

Humility is certainly welcomed, but a little braggadocio can go a long way. I'd say that most of us are likely much more familiar with the 5 directors I mentioned above (Tyler Perry, Antoine Fuqua, F. Gary Gray, John Singleton, Spike Lee) whose worldwide box office grosses are beneath Story's, than they are with the director named Tim Story.

But really, I hope all those studio meetings Story was taking back in 2012 (and hopefully is still taking), and all the projects he was reportedly being offered, eventually materialize into something concrete, and that another 6 years don't go by until his next film opens.

Up next for Story: not-so surprisingly, the sequel to Think Like A Man, titled Think Like a Man Too.

If Tim Story is reading this, we'd love to get an interview with you sir. This post is littered with assumptions on my part, I'd readily admit, based on available information, so it would be great to hear directly from the man himself. After all, maybe Tim Story is perfectly content with the career he currently has (which ultimately is all that really matters), and everything I've said here is needless.

You can read the full LA Times piece HERE.

This article is related to: Tim Story, Things That Make You Go Hmm...


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