Black Directors and Their Lack of Branding

I still haven’t seen Think Like A Man and I’m cool with that. Don’t get me wrong, I love romantic comedies. But I like those that are a little more highbrow and character-driven. For me, Think Like A Man is a cluster-f*ck of “boy meets girl, they like each other, they come from different backgrounds, will they overcome?”. However, the movie has an intriguing backstory from the standpoint of its director, Tim Story.

Story might not be a name you’re readily familiar with. But you’ve definitely seen his work. He directed both Fantastic Four films, the quasi cult classic Barbershop, and the straight-to-dvd film Hurricane Season which you can now catch on BET during a random lazy Sunday. Those films, especially both Fantastic Four’s, have awarded Story the unique position to work with decent talent and a variety of budgets. Yet prior to the success of Think Like A Man, Story’s last directorial credit was in 2007. Hmm

As is the rhetoric of many black directors, it’s the studio machine that hinders black directors from having a consistently qualitative resume as their white counterparts. In a recent interview, Story speaks about the future as he sees it coming off such a monumental, critically acclaimed comedy; “All I want is the same opportunities as the filmmakers I grew up admiring.”

Doing a comedy film that’s embraced across social boundaries is often an impossible feat for a black director. The article recants the existing actor/director teams and noticeably, the list is exclusionary of any black directors. If you look at the black comics that are heavily popular to audiences, none of them have directed a movie in which they’ve also gotten top billing. That’s ironic thing about that to me is part of being a great comic is writing and executing funny material. Digging deeper into the scheme of black directors, it’s make me think of the branding of black directors.

In the realm of comedy, you know exactly what to expect from a Judd Apatow or Garry Marshall movie. These directors have a style that has been omnipresent throughout their careers. For many mainstream directors, they even have a go-to actor that they work with. So when you have a winning tandem that translates into box office numbers, it’s easy for a studio to pour money into the project, no questions asked. Black directors lack that type of branding or relationships in their filmmaking styles and projects they get hired for. Think back to the period when black cinema was as its apex in 1997-2003; you couldn’t tell who directed what movie. The market was saturated with black directors that just wanted to get their stories on film. Truth be told, you can go back and read over the numbers. Very few of those movies made anything close to what Think Like A Man did in their opening weekends. (Ex: Love and Basketball, heralded as a classic in black film, cost $15 million to make and only made $8 million opening weekend.)

Looking at Tim Story’s film history, he got his start by directing music videos. Those videos all had a strong story line. In fact, they could even render themselves as short films if you stripped away the music and replaced the artist with actual actors. Yet that fluidity hasn’t permeated into his film career.

So much discourse complaining is prominent in the black blogosphere and media about why there aren’t more black films being backed by the major studios. My stance is why aren’t black directors branding themselves as worthy of upper crust material? Adam Sandler has gotten to be sh*t stain on the comedic side of movies. But he’s managed to stay fairly original when it comes to the conceptual side. Same with Judd Apatow.. When people come to know what to expect of a director, even if it’s a fresh concept, they’ll support it.

As a movie lover, I’d like to see black directors take on more high concept films. I’d like to see more directors, Story included, be able to rangle A-list comedy talent and deliver a movie that wins over both black and mainstream America. Antoine Fuqua and George Tillman Jr. have both done a few successful crossover movies in the drama/action genre, so IT CAN BE DONE. Reportedly, he’s now taking major meetings and reading scripts for his next project. I hope his next project will allow him to utilize his skill of organic story telling and be funny but make great money doing so.

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