Reasons For The Term “Black Film”

Earlier this week, USA Today came under fire for a headline for one of their stories. To describe ‘Thor: The Dark World’ winning this past weekend’s box office and ‘The Best Man Holiday’ coming in second, USA Today came up with the headline “’Holiday’ Nearly Beat Thor as Race-Themed Films Soar.” After the terrible reception to the headline, USA Today changed the headline to read “’Holiday’ Nearly Beat Thor as Ethnically Diverse Films Soar.” After even more backlash, USA Today changed the headline again to say ‘”Best Man Holiday’ Nearly Beats Mighty Thor,” and that one was finale.
The backlash brought on by the first two headlines came from the fact that ‘The Best Man Holiday isn’t a “race-themed” film. Demetria Irwin from The Grio brought up the point that “USA Today and other media outlets seem to think that “race-themed” and “ethnically diverse” are terms that are synonymous with “predominately black cast.” Also when it comes to movies with a predominately African American cast, some people classify the movie to be a “black film” or an “urban film.” But why is that?

According to Ohio University Assistant Professor of Film, Michael Gillispie, that question requires an elaborate explanation since there could be many different reasons why. He feels the answer is so elaborated that “Ultimately the question you might want to consider is the relationship between the social category of race and race as a categorical term for a film practice.”
Ohio University student Will Ashton has a more specific answer when he thinks about predominately black cast films being called “black film”. “The ratio between films with predominately African American casts is still significantly less than those with significantly white casts,” said Ashton. “So I guess people and the media find these films as being different from the norm and therefore highlight on the most notable differences found within these films.”
Ashton might have a point. There have been about seven films released nationwide so far this year that have a predominantly black cast, with the most recent ones being ‘Baggage Claim’, ‘Lee Daniels’ The Butler’ and of course ‘The Best Man Holiday’. That is seven films compared to the many other films that have been released that don’t have a predominantly black cast.
Ohio University graduate student Kaitor Kposowa has his own belief on why movies with predominately black cast are often called “black films” or “urban films.” “Not enough so called black films have been successful enough to lose that stigma,” says Kposowa. He also states that Hollywood is to blame for that since many black actors aren’t given the amount of chances that a white actor may get. Kposowa brings up the point that many people have wanted Idris Elba, who is a “black actor”, to play James Bond but know that won’t happen because the head honchos in Hollywood don’t want to risk making a major change like that to such a popular franchise.
Numbers also back up Kposowa’s point. Of the seven movies released nationwide this year with a predominantly black cast, only one of them has a top 30 biggest box office opening. That one film is ‘The Best Man Holiday’, which brought in $30.1 million its opening weekend.Also, If your interested and seeing how many films over the past ten years have had a top 30 box office opening with a African American lead actor compared to films with a non-African American lead actor, checkout the below link.
Gillispie stated that there are possibly several reasons for why the terms “black film” and “urban film” are used to describe movies with a predominantly black cast and Ashton and Kposowa have showed that to be very true. USA Today showed Hollywood and the media feel that movies with a predominantly black cast need a phrase like “race-themed” to describe those movies. Since they received quick backlash for their headlines and changed them, people and different media outlets might slowly get away from using those types of terms and phrases for ‘The Best Man Holiday’ and other predominantly black cast movies.

Speaking of ‘The Best Man Holiday’, click the  Storify link below to see what people thought of the film.

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