Revenge of the Black Biopic
I was mildly curious about how Get On Up, the James Brown biopic, would do in its first weekend at the theater, even though I had no interest in seeing it. After all, a trailer that includes the words, “from the director that brought you The Help” as enticing jargon clearly does not have me in its target demographic. I didn’t see the film, but if there was an implication that integration was spurred by black and white people dancing together, I wouldn’t be surprised. Anyway, thanks to the internet I saw that Get on Up whimpered into third place at the weekend box office, making $14 million dollars.
To be sure, I have no quarrel with Get on Up. I have no investment in its success or failure. I actually really love James Brown and wouldn’t mind seeing a good biopic of him at some point. Yet its release in conjunction with news that Jamie Foxx has been tapped to star in the upcoming Mike Tyson biopic, along with the comings and goings of the Whitney Houston biopic, and the Zane-penned, Haughton family approved Aaliyah biopic proves that if it’s not a story about a famous black person, it’s not getting the greenlight. I mean, Get on Up‘s Chadwick Boseman is possibly best known for playing Jackie Robinson in what? 42, a biopic on Jackie Robinson.
Hollywood be like: Slavery movie. White person turns up during the Civil Rights Movement. Black biopic. Black biopic. Black biopic. Black biopic. Black biopic. Black biopic. Black biopic. Black biopic. Black biopic.Slavery movie. Slavery movie. Black biopic. Black biopic. Black biopic. Black biopic. Black biopic. Rinse. Repeat.
And it’s unfortunate, because there are plenty of good films and film makers willing to make movies about black people being, well, black people. There is more to black life than whippings from massa, housewarming gifts from the Klan, and getting famous while endearing themselves to white folks in the process. And if you make the film, people just might come. The Best Man, released at the end of last year, cost $17 million to make and made $70 million at the box office. Yet it seems that the film’s success has only spawned a sequel and not a slew of greenlights on films about black people not being all that concerned with racism and white gazes–unless, of course, we can get Kevin Hart to star.
And that’s no shade to Kevin Hart. I mean, I’ve seen more than my share of that cat’s films precisely because they aren’t Hollywood’s latest treatise on the oppression of black folks. They are more often than not pleasant little diversions from the everyday and the black cinematic world. All film has its place, I guess. But at this point, it seems that black moviegoers who are interested in seeing themselves must either holler at Tyler Perry or watch Hollywood spend millions of dollars flubbing the life of some black musician. But I guess if and until Hollywood gets the memo about black-centered film, we’ll have to watch Nick Cannon turn himself into Richard Pryor. For the Richard Pryor biopic.