A filmmaker friend recently posted a question on Facebook, asking his fellow African-American friends and collaborators about supporting African-American themed films at the box office. There is an organized movement to in the African American community to encourage as many members to send a message to Hollywood by getting out and seeing African-American themed films on opening weekend. He questioned why much of the community will go out and see anything by Tyler Perry but only a few handfuls will go see Fences. I just had to chime in and ask how many of them had gone to see Moonlight. No responses!
This past weekend, Moonlight won the Best Picture Oscar and Get Out, Jordan Peele’s wildly well-received social conscious horror comedy about an African-American man finding himself hunted in an affluent white suburb was number one at the box office. In three months, Moonlight has earned $25,000,000. In one weekend, Get Out earned over $30,000,000.
As far as I can tell, the perception of the public is that Get Out is not an explicitly African-American themed film, which it pretty much is because race actually factors into the plot. The film is being perceived of and marketed as a horror film, which it is. People are flocking to Get Out because people like horror movies and people are staying away from Moonlight because, with its African American and gay themes, it appeals to a niche market and, anecdotally, it appears the audiences are predominantly white.
I saw Get Out because I like horror movies. I liked it, found it rich, intelligent and provocative, all qualities that, as a film teacher, I hold up as the things filmmakers should strive for. Honestly, I felt like I should go see Moonlight because, let’s face it, as an artsy intellectual liberal, I felt like it was the right thing to do, to expose myself to something other. What I experienced was a rich, intelligent and provocative film that moved me deeply. Get Out is entertaining and smart and I relate to nothing in it because I am neither African American or, hopefully not, racist. On the surface, Moonlight is about the experiences of a poor, gay African-American male, none of which describes me. But it is what is beneath the surface of Moonlight that got me. It is a movie by, for and about anyone who has ever felt that they don’t fit in, that they are alone in the world and that nobody gets them and to that, I raise my hand and say “Me, me, me.”
In my classes I tell students that they should aim to make smart, meaningful films but that, in reality, they could make the greatest film in the world but if it is about dough rising and it is playing in a theater also screening the latest sequel to a remake about things blowing up, very few people are going to go to their film.
In the end, I guess what I am saying is that it is good thing that Get Out was not released the same weekend as a Tyler Perry film. No, what I am saying is that Get Out and Moonlight are both really good movies and I wish as many people would be open to seeing both. I wondered if this box office disparity is really about race or if it is simply about making movies that lots of people want to see versus making small, quiet personal statements that are only going to attract a brave few.