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'Best Man Holiday,' 'Black Nativity' and 'Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas' Join Banner Year for Black Filmmakers

Photo of Susan Wloszczyna By Susan Wloszczyna | Thompson on Hollywood November 25, 2013 at 12:37PM

Joining what is proving to be a banner year for movies by black filmmakers including "12 Years a Slave," "Lee Daniels’ The Butler" and "Fruitvale Station": Three films with yuletide themes and settings timed to the holiday season.
"Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas"
"Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas"

"Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas," opening Dec. 13, has the benefit of  already having a loyal fan base as part of a long-running franchise that centers on Perry’s cross-dressing performance as a gruffly outrageous old lady. The average gross of the seven previous movies that feature Madea hovers at an impressive $60 million.

A request for an interview from someone associated with the movie  was turned down -- not surprisingly, since Perry’s releases generally sell themselves. However, in the  press notes issued by distributor Lionsgate, the filmmaker is quoted as saying,  “I’ve always wanted to do a holiday movie! I love Christmas and the spirit of the holidays. I love the family gatherings. And I think Madea paired with the holidays spells just the right kind of trouble.  Cause there’s nothing holy about Madea.”

In her latest escapade, rated PG-13, Madea accompanies niece Eileen (Anna Maria Horsford) when she visits her daughter, Lacy(Tika Sumpter),  for the holidays. A culture clash erupts when they discover Lacy has a secret: She has married a white man and his hillbilly parents (Kathy Najimy, Larry the Cable Guy) are joining their seasonal celebration. As Perry promises, “There’s no Silent Night for this family.”

"The Best Man Holiday" exceeded box-office predictions last weekend -- taking in almost what the original film made during its entire run. “The studio thought it would make under $20 million,” says Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for Rentrak. “I thought $25 million. It helped that it had a great release date, tucked between 'Thor' and 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.'”

What is surprising is that it did so well by being niche-marketed mainly to older black females. According to Universal, 87% of the first weekend audience was African-American, 75% female and 63% over 35. Says studio distribution chief Nikki Rocco, “It was a discerning adult audience that has been underserved, the same moviegoers who went to 'The Butler' and 'The Help.'”

The lesson learned, says Dergarabedian: “You don’t need to cross over to be a hit. The 'Twilight' movies proved that by appealing to young females. You just need to grab the biggest fans of a brand or theme or genre to have a hit. ”

However, the two other Christmas movies might have the potential to expand that reach. Perry has been diversifying his casts for a while. And while "Black Nativity" features African-American actors in the main roles, its leads have proven their wide appeal to audiences of every type in the past.

Plus, all three titles boast a secret weapon. Unlike most mainstream Christmas-themed movies such as "Elf" or "The Santa Clause" that tend to stick with the secular, these filmmakers have made addressing faith-based themes a priority. That could attract a crowd that would appreciate hearing a few hallelujahs along with the same old ho, ho, ho’s.

A number of reviews complimented "The Best Man Holiday" for acknowledging religion onscreen. “First of all, it is a huge part of a lot of African-Americans’ lives, even if not all of us go to church on Sunday,” Lee says. “A lot of people like Harper (a writer played by Diggs) struggle with faith. I’m not a religious person, but I am spiritual and believe in God. I knew I had to bring it in. “

Of course, the one drawback to any holiday-themed release, Rocco says: “They do not do well once New Year’s happens.”

This article is related to: Features, Box Office, Box Office, Best Man Holiday, Tyler Perry, Tyler Perry

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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.