What Hollywood Needs To Learn From THINK LIKE A MAN

Founder and Editor; Toronto, Canada (@AnarchistTodd)
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What Hollywood Needs To Learn From THINK LIKE A MAN
Nothing captures the attention of Hollywood bean counters like money and so there will, no doubt, be much talk about the success of Think Like A Man over the coming weeks. I mean, look at it: A low budget film without a single proven movie star not only opened in the number one position, it did so by knocking The Hunger Games out of that spot and posting numbers more than double what its own distributor was projecting / hoping for. That's remarkable.

The conversation about how this happened has already started and - no real surprise - most of it so far centers around a quality ad campaign and a good job done by the distributor. It's no surprise because these are the people in power and they always want to take credit for successes while shoving off failures on other forces.

But, while taking nothing away from the marketers and execs who put this film out there, I want to suggest there's a different factor that's driving this film. A much more obvious one, which you would think would make it that much easier to capitalize on but which - by its very nature - is one that Hollywood would most likely prefer to sweep under the rug because acknowledging it would mean acknowledging some unsavory things about their dominant business practices.

Think Like A Man is succeeding because it's black.

Let me be very clear what I am not suggesting with that statement. I am not saying that America's black population wants to be pandered to. And I am certainly not suggesting that they'll turn out en masse simply because there is a black actor in a film. If Think Like A Man was not also good and did not also star some legitimately funny people nobody would care about it at all, regardless of race. But what I very definitely do mean is that Hollywood has neglected and ignored the minority populations of America to such a shocking degree in the past decades that when something good finally wends its way through the system they will turn out en masse to support it.

Consider this: Last year's summer blockbuster season carried on for months without a single actor of color - of ANY color - appearing on the marquee of ANY film for the entire season. Hollywood will argue that they do not cast black leads because there are so few black leads capable of 'opening' a film. I counter that there are so few viable black leads because none are ever given the chance to develop. Bizarrely, the most racially diverse summer blockbuster of 2011 was the one that actually had legitimate reason to cast dominantly white. That was Thor, in which Kenneth Branagh cast Idris Elba and Tadanobu Asano as Norse gods. And let's be honest: When a movie about Norse gods is the most racially diverse of the major blockbusters released in a year then something is severely wrong with the way the industry is operating.

It was not always this way. Look back to the 1980s. Films of all types - and particularly films aimed at mass audiences - made a point of casting across multiple races. Eddie Murphy vehicles like 48 Hours and Beverly Hills Cop set the template and the approach was literally everywhere. Why? Because producers understood something that they have seemingly forgotten since: If you want to appeal to a mass audience the simplest first step to doing so is making sure all sectors of the audience have someone to identify with.

People go to the movies - at least the movies produced as mass entertainments - for a bit of escapism. For a bit of fantasy. And a key element in being able to carry out that escape is seeing someone on the big screen who you can easily identify with, whose shoes you can step into. If you're a white male, that's fine. There are plenty of options to choose from. But if you're black, what have you got? Not much. And god forbid you're Asian or Hispanic. In the producer's quest for the 'four quadrant' movie Hollywood has become increasingly homogeneous, somehow completely missing the fact that an enormous percentage of the country is not white and that those people would like to have some stars of their own as well, thanks.

That the decisions in Hollywood are made dominantly by white men is far from a new phenomenon. It's been that way from the beginning. It's something that should change and needs to change, though realistically any shifts on that front will be a long time coming. Hell, even getting away from the producing and executive ranks, the directors are overwhelmingly white men. I mean, name a mainstream black director outside of the Hughes Brothers. Or an Asian other than Justin Lin. Or any Hispanics at all. They're all shockingly short lists and addressing that - cultivating talents that can make their way up through the system - is going to be a matter of years, not days. But the casting issue is one that could, and should, be addressed immediately. It would be nice to think Hollywood would do so for moral reasons but, if not, they should at least do so for business ones. There are non-white audiences that want to be served and represented on screen and the producer that remembers this will be rewarded. Representative casting is good business, plain and simple. Just ask the producers behind Think Like A Man.
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JasonApril 23, 2012 10:42 AM

Thank you, Thank you, Thank you! This editorial was a long time in coming and i am glad someone had the balls to say it!

I am a 40 yeard old White Conservative(moderate) and I have said for a while now that Hollywood has been sliding BACKWARD every year when it comes to diversity, NOT forward.

I Especially Love your take on the issue of Black leading men. Hollywood execs dont see many Black leading men because they only give work to Denzel, Will Smith, and Samuel L Jackson.

There is a Bevy of incredibly talented black actors out there who get NO credit for their work:
Idris Elba, Michael Jai White, Chiwetel Ejiofor(Serenity, Talk to Me), Jeffrey Wright(Source Code, Casino Royale), just to name a few.

Also, someone tell Hollywood that there are plenty of great hispanic actors other than Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem.

The portrayal of American society in FIlms and other entertainment is NOTHING like in real life. I step outside my door everyday and see so much more diversity than I see in movies and TV and it needs to change NOW!

Kurt HalfyardApril 23, 2012 11:48 AM

This movie was so specialized that I'd never even heard of it until I saw the Box Office Numbers. I can say that it wasn't the above poster that attracted folks to the film, it's pretty lazy.

Isn't this success primarily based on the fact that it is spun out of a popular book (Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man) and therefore has a pretty big built in audience? This is something rare for an 'urban-movie' (Variety terminology, not mine!) The fact that the film is apparently pretty good (albeit 50% RT score) only cements word of mouth and trickles up to more $$$.

So does this bode well for What to Expect When You are Expecting, which is much more 'catering to all races' and is based on a popular book, and it has pregnancy as another factor...

Kurt HalfyardApril 23, 2012 12:17 PM

Furthermore, the most racially diverse success was not THOR (although that is a funny point you make even if fals), it was actually Fast5, which was directed by an Asian, stared batch of racially mixed (The Rock, Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez) men and women.

Also, there was MACHETE last year. In fact, Robert Rodriguez and Guillermo del Toro are your Hispanic-Americans (both with Mexican origins) both highly successful in the Hollywood system.

Todd BrownApril 23, 2012 1:54 PM

Fast Five was released in April - outside of the summer blockbuster season. A month or so later and, yes, you'd be correct. Machete was released in September of 2010, also outside of the summer season and in another year entirely.

And, yes, Rodriguez and Del Toro are your two successful Hispanic directors in Hollywood. There was some deliberate hyperbole in that passage to make the point. But the reality is that the list dries up pretty much immediately after the two of them - though you could certainly make a case for Alfonso Cuaron as well - which is the point of the argument. You can't move without tripping over a white guy making movies in the Hollywood system while you can literally count the blacks, Hispanics and Asians on your fingers. It's badly out of balance.

doug gabrielApril 23, 2012 1:54 PM

THINK LIKE A MAN is succeeding because of Kevin Hart's massive popularity. They wisely built the THINK ad campaign around Hart to glob onto his grassroots audience/ street "buzz". Hart is who this audience came to see and are identifying with. Hart's recent standup/ doc LAUGH AT MY PAIN grossed $2 million in a weekend in less than 100 locations w/ no advertising - you don't do those kind of numbers without a healthy fanbase. That no one has yet mentioned Kevin Hart by name in this post sort of illustrates how "homegrown" black talent tends to fly under the radar (especially in Hollywood) while I'm certain everyone here (and in Hollywood) knows who Dane Cook is

Todd BrownApril 23, 2012 1:58 PM

The popularity of the book was taken into account in the original studio tracking numbers, which projected a $16 million opening weekend based on pre-awareness, cast and expressed interest among people polled leading up to the release. Advanced tracking is kind of a voodoo science among the studios ... it is eerily accurate a HUGE majority of the time and almost never misses this badly, with the film doing more than double what the tracking said it would. Given that - like you said - this movie was not marketed to white people AT ALL means that the most likely reason is that Screen Gems simply did not realize the true size of the black audience and stumbled across a sleeping giant, as it were.

Joe YoungApril 23, 2012 2:00 PM

Well.....I think some films contained ethnical diversity...such as Shame (2011), Drive (2011), Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011), Contagion (2011), Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), Battle Los Angeles (2011) etc......BUT in general I agree with you.....diversity was/is lame in Hollywood I can´t really understand why....I guess it has to do with boxoffice numbers that the studios use well known actors who pull in lots of money. Therefore if they are going to use a person of different color they go for the usual suspects.

Todd BrownApril 23, 2012 2:02 PM

Yep, and Hart is precisely the sort of talent that Hollywood should be actively seeking out and developing. That they were surprised by this says something about how out of touch the studios are.My point is that there is a massive hidden audience that will come out if you give them what they want. Hart is what triggered it in this particular case but if Hollywood would stop thinking white only they could find, develop or even create more like him. The problem right now is that they ignore black culture completely.

Todd BrownApril 23, 2012 2:29 PM

Shame, Drive and Contagion were all made at least partially outside of the studio system, where there is a lot more leeway on these matters. Battle LA did do a lot better than most studio films on this front, for sure. No question there. But that really should be the norm rather than the exception ...

Joe YoungApril 23, 2012 3:08 PM

Yes bu that was my point......usually film outside the system has always been more interested in doing films with bigger ethnical diversity....look at Jim Jarmsuch, John Sayles etc.....but the mainstream film industry has lot to learn. One guy I think we all have forgotten is Tyler Perry......this guy makes a lot of money. Personally I haven´t seen any of his films....yet. Spike Lee on the other hand...I´ve seen some of his films. You adressed a very interesting topic and I think Hollywood needs to do more bolder casting choices.......

Sean "The Butcher" SmithsonApril 23, 2012 3:42 PM

It takes money to be able to get into film making for the most part. This is an unavoidable truth.

"Follow the money" and it leads you to the unequivocal answer.

RoachgoddApril 23, 2012 3:53 PM

What about types of diversity other than racial? Do (or did) films with alternative political, religious, sexual, etc. identifiers have a similar ignored potential for success?

Kurt HalfyardApril 23, 2012 3:58 PM

Has it really been 2 years since MACHETE already! Wowsers. Time flies. My Bad.

There is also Alejandro González Iñárritu in the Big-Mexican 3 (Remember the year of Pan's Labyrinth, Babel, and Children of Men?) also, Alejandro Amenábar circles the Hollywood system (The Others) or just makes mega-blockbusters outside of Hollywood (Agora)...Also Juan Carlos Fresnadillo is destined to make a big-sized Hollywood blockbuster at some point, and you recent showed J.A. Bayona's big Tsunami flick and then Rodrigo Cortés....Sure nobody is as mainstream as Tony Scott, but there are a lot of people with the possibility to take those roles when these guys retire.

wllosephApril 23, 2012 5:28 PM

Hollywood is now being bankrolled by European investors ,who look for projects that are marketable and make a modest turnover as this wonderful comedy/drama has done .Let's hope they pay attention to the success of this project,and strive to make films that all races can enjoy.
The focus is on quality ,which Hollywood has been lacking lately with these so called mainstream blockbusters and boring hyped up drama's and vulgar comedies that are dreadful.Twitch continue to inform and entertain with us with little films from around globe ,I am a true fan of the site, and I hope moviegoers will continue to support films of substance and Quality,also go out and see Think like a Man! it is excellent.

MarsHottentotApril 23, 2012 5:56 PM

Well, I live in Atlanta and there has been a huge billboard for this film down the street from me for the last few months. I'm guessing you don't live in an "urban" area?

James DennisApril 24, 2012 8:43 AM

It's funny, these movies don't even register in the UK. Much like anything by Tyler Perry who I hear is fairly successful in the US? John Singleton and Antoine Fuqua have done pretty well out of Hollywood - but as you say, as perhaps the exceptions.

WillApril 24, 2012 3:27 PM

But by this movie not having any white actors isn't that opposite of your sentiments?

Todd BrownApril 24, 2012 4:19 PM

Not at all. What this movie demonstrates is that there is a LARGE black audience that will come out to the theater if someone puts something on screen that is appealing to them. By continually casting overwhelmingly white, the studios consistently fail to do that.

WillApril 24, 2012 4:33 PM

I haven't seen the film, but i have seen plenty of similar "black" films and regardless of the quality they all seem to do fairly well domestically.

ragedaddy72April 25, 2012 12:05 AM

Okay, here's my take on this. Thanks Todd for this article, I'm glad someone with a voice from a major film site weighed in on this issue. Let's go back to the 90's where Hollywood only wanted to portray african americans as gangbangers and thugs with the sucess of Boyz in the Hood, Menace to Society, Juice, etc..now that era has vanished, it's now the black comedies that are in demand, thanks to Tyler Perry. I'm not suprised this movie did well because, I'll be frank, african american women are the most underrated geographic in the world today! Whatever they like, they'll spend and support in droves! That goes for shopping and movies too! Also add in the latino women in urban areas that are fans of black culture and you have a legitimate hit on your hands! But alot of posters on here don't realize how big this book was for Stever Harvey. I've seen the movie and there were alot of whites that went to see this movie as well, due to Steve's popularity on many shows while promoting this book like Oprah, Leno, Dr.Phil and many others. Todd the bottom line is, african americans have to do what Tyler Perry did and create their own studios, so they can make their own films, same with hispanics too. Minorities can't and won't wait on Hollywood any longer.

ragedaddy72April 25, 2012 12:08 AM

And another thing Todd, I've also been to see The Raid twice already, with a very mixed viewing crowd, and I hope with the remake you are producing, it'll be a very diverse mixture of martial artists to represent the real america.

Todd BrownApril 25, 2012 10:28 AM

I have to be very careful what we say because we're not at that stage of the process yet and there are other forces that will weigh in before all is said and done but, yes, we've drafted a casting wish list and it is VERY diverse. Like, four continents represented diverse. And I'd like to get some women on the team as well, though the pool to draw from there is significantly shallower so that'll be a bit harder to pull off.

Ard VijnApril 25, 2012 10:55 AM

Rihanna is going to be in it, you just know it. Confess!!

WillApril 25, 2012 4:36 PM

Bring Shannon Lee back out of retirement.

ragedaddy72April 26, 2012 12:36 AM

@ Todd, well put! I totally understand! Man, what I wouldn't give to be on that casting team! I've been casting that movie in my head since I saw it!

SuWeDiApril 26, 2012 5:01 AM

Hi Todd, for the remake, please weight in for Christopher C. Cowan, the director of this marvel:


This is a real rising young black star who can deliver in fight scene like very few in the word. Just check his work with his team "Thousand Pounds Action Co." here: http://www.youtube.com/user/RivenX3i?feature=watch

For a girl who can deliver in a fight scene, dont forget Amy Johnston, beauty and genuine "KickassBadassery" at once! Check her out here:


Yes, same team as Christopher C. Cowan: "Thousand Pounds Action Co."

Go figure...

daleyemissionsApril 27, 2012 1:28 AM

Major Hispanic directors currently working in film:
-Guillermo del Toro
-Alfonso Cuaron
-Alejandro González Iñárritu
-Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
-Rodrigo Cortes
-Pedro Almodovar
-Nacho Vigalondo

Major Black directors currently working in film:
-Spike Lee
-Albert and Allen Hughes
-John Singleton
-Tim Story
-Antoine Fuqua
-Scott Sanders

Major Asian directors currently working in film:
-Wong Kar-wai
-Park Chan-wook
-Justin Lin
-Zhang Yimou
-Ang Lee
-Kaige Chen
-Apichatpong Weerasethakul
-Takeshi Kitano
-Takashi Miike

Todd BrownApril 27, 2012 1:33 AM

Many of the people you name here have never - and likely will never - make a movie for a US studio. I'm fully aware there are great directors all around the world. The problem is the bias within the studios.

PrentisApril 28, 2012 5:20 AM

"A low budget film without a single proven movie star....."

Taraji would like a word with you.

ChevalierAguilaApril 29, 2012 5:26 AM

*read synopsis in imdb
*Steve Harvey name involved


Todd BrownApril 29, 2012 6:15 PM

Why? Surely she can tell the difference between being a working actress - which she very definitely is, and good for her - and a star capable of opening a movie and anchoring a PR campaign.

criteriamorApril 29, 2012 8:20 PM

Hell yes! Practically half of this fucking country is not white. I want to SEE IT! The people half-heartedly arguing against you are picking scraps and they need to realize that. The title Think Like a Man sounds like some patriarchal noise but, yes, I don't need to be going to film festivals* specifically catering to an ethnicity in order to see a real picture of us.

*Though they're great and should never go away.