Who Killed The QUEEN OF KATWE – Do Black Movies Matter To Black Audiences?
Everything was set for a glorious opening. Lupita Nyongo, who became a poster child for a new self-image and confidence of Black women after her Oscar win for TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE, looked amazing in the trailers for QUEEN OF KATWE. Critics praised the movie (90 percent on Rotten Tomatoes), pointing out Lupita’s stellar performance. Aside from being a truly positive and uplifting story featuring a Black main cast, the movie had another glorious return to offer. David Oyelowo, who was snubbed for playing Dr. Martin Luther King in SELMA, received equally strong reviews for his co-starring role alongside Nyongo.
Backed by Disney and graced with a huge marketing campaign, the film made its way to over 1,200 movie screens across America last weekend. This was just a few days after African Americans had been debating on social media about how to respond to the latest police killings. A TV actor had suggested staying away from work for a day, others talked about supporting only Black businesses. The debate about Nate Parker’s BIRTH OF A NATION and the negativity hurled at African American endeavors was already boiling. Yet, when the box office opened for QUEEN OF KATWE, no one showed up. Well, hardly anyone.
The beautiful film directed by female Indian helmer Mira Nair only made about 2.5 million dollars on its first weekend in wide release. That’s a disaster, looking at its production budget of 15 million dollars and a marketing effort that easily cost more than that. What does this mean, apart from the obvious financial loss for the filmmakers? Despite the atmosphere in America I’ve described above, not a million, not even half a million people showed up to support an uplifting Black story.
These sad numbers raise a tough question: How much do Black movies matter to Black audiences? I often read bitter comments about “the media” or “Hollywood” not wanting to see Black stories succeed. Yet Disney made this film and promoted it heavily. Yet THE BIRTH OF A NATION is going to 2,000 screens this Friday after a record 17,5 million sale to Fox Searchlight. Yet Shonda Rhimes is the most successful TV producer of our time. Yet Tyler Perry is one of the 10 richest film directors in history.
Dear Black moviegoers – rather than discussing and pointing fingers, perhaps it is time to let your feet and pockets do the talking. There are ways you can make a difference. One of them is to support Black films.
Article by CHRIS SILBER