Another problem is that African American films are distributed on limited screens but expected to perform as well as mainstream movies that have wider releases. For example, Our Family Wedding, which stars Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker and America Ferrera of Ugly Betty fame, opened at 1,605 theaters but 27 Dresses, another wedding genre movie was released on 3,057 screens. Our Family Wedding grossed $7.6 million in its opening weekend, less than three times as much as 27 Dresses at the box office.
“I think that is part of the dynamic that makes it more challenging to compete,” Famuyiwa says. “If your film doesn’t make the amount of money that people think it should, it makes it harder to get the next film made,” he says.
But Famuyiwa continues to prove that he can generate an audience and box office receipts for his works.
The Veteran John Singleton on Financing Films
John Singleton is one of the few directors whose name can sell a movie. Since becoming the first African American and youngest filmmaker nominated for a best director Oscar for his poignant 1991 film Boyz N the Hood, he has developed a range of movies from mainstream blockbusters to small independent films. Depending on the project, Singleton can command a hefty budget from a studio and has demonstrated his credibility with impressive returns at the box office. For example, his 2003 hit 2 Fast 2 Furious produced worldwide box office receipts of more than $236 million. With a full slate of projects that will keep him busy over the next few years, he was recently granted a budget of close to $40 million from Lionsgate to direct the anticipated blockbuster Abduction.
Even the seasoned Singleton, 42, admits to situations in which he has faced resistance in gaining studio financing. “If I aspire to make movies with mostly African Americans in them, it is harder to get studios to finance them,” says Singleton. “For those kinds of movies you have to find the money and go do them.”
Instead of bemoaning the studio system, Singleton decided to become the bank for young aspiring filmmakers, producing films he wanted to see on the silver screen.
For example, through his New Deal Productions company, he financed the widely acclaimed, Oscar-nominated motion picture Hustle and Flow with $5 million of his own money in 2005. His return: $18.6 million from a worldwide gross of more than $23.6 million.
Asserts Singleton: “Fewer black films reduce the chances of finding new stars. We need more black filmmakers to do movies with new talent. We are going to need more black entrepreneurs investing in films with [black] filmmakers.”