Moviegoers live for New York Times movie critiques. The prestigious paper’s reviews hold about as much weight as a review by Roger Ebert, and just by looking at what movie was reviewed and who critiqued it, the public at large gauges whether a movie is worth seeing at the theaters, is an “I’ll rent it from Redbox when it comes out” release, or a film not worth seeing at all.
That being said, it’s a little curious that none of the newspaper’s three major movie critics reviewed “Think Like a Man” in their weekly movie review roundups published yesterday. Yes, A.O. Scott, Manohla Dargis, and Stephen Holden were working Thursday because they had time to pen reviews of other films coming out this weekend like “The Lucky One” and “Goodbye First Love”, but instead of showing some love to TLAM, the task was passed on to another lesser-known reviewer, Rachel Saltz, and the review isn’t given much real estate on the website either.
I’m not attempting to race bait this review or even question Rachel’s credibility as a reviewer but I think the choice (which is what it was) not to highlight this film over others answers the question many have been asking about TLAM, which is whether it has crossover appeal. I’m going to assume that if three notable NYT critics didn’t take the time to watch the movie neither will most non-black moviegoers. And while we might think, who cares? We all know that the goal of most filmmakers behind movies with nearly an all-black cast is to also rake in dollars from people who don’t just look like the ones in the film. After all, we are just a small percentage of the population. Filmmakers also want their characters to transcend race. In this movie, for example, the dating woes the actors are displaying are universal, and if it weren’t for that pesky thing called skin color, the public might see it that way.
The other issue that makes this slight curious is that “Think Like a Man” is expected by many to come in at number one at the box office this weekend, considering “The Lucky One” is it’s only main competitor besides “The Hunger Games” which has been out for some time. (“Goodbye First Love” is only showing in Manhattan.) Again, that being said, why wouldn’t one of the publication’s major critics review a film with that much hype—and speak on whether it lives up to it. Audience research numbers show the film scored some of the highest testing numbers ever recorded. In Inglewood, CA, which is predominantly black, audiences gave the movie a 95 percent approval rating. In the racially diverse area of Long Beach, the film garnered 99 percent approval, which would make one think it wouldn’t just be black folks running to see the film this weekend.
Last week, Vulture did an extensive review of “Think Like a Man” and the very issue the New York Times slight highlights. Claude Brodesser-Akner writes “Hollywood has great difficulty marketing ‘female movies’ to men, let alone ‘urban movies’ to white audiences — which is why everyone in Hollywood is simultaneously confounded and astonished by the forthcoming ‘Think Like a Man.’” He then poses an interesting question based on the fact that as of late last week, only slightly more than one in three white moviegoers (37 percent) were aware of the film, and only one in four (23 percent) expressed “definite interest:”
“How do you get white audiences to see a film that they are mostly unaware of but that audience research shows they actually love once they see it? The key words being ‘once they see it.’”
Claude points out that studios are known to slight marketing for black films which doesn’t give the movie a fair shot at topping the box office but I have to say the “Think Like a Man” cast has been hitting the media circuit pretty hard, although as far as Internet advertising goes, I have only seen promos on black blogs. I’m going to take Claude’s point one step further and say the New York Times omission of “Think Line a Man” in its weekly review—and likely other “black films” of cinema’s past also adds to this issue of movies like this being overlooked by white audiences. A critique is nothing more than free promotion and NYT decided not to give TLAM much. The question is does the blame fall on the studio for not making the film appealing enough for the major critics to consider or was this decision made because of the very fact that the reviewers didn’t think it would appeal to “their” audiences?
What do you think about the fact that NYT‘s main critics didn’t review this film? Does it speak to it’s lack of crossover appeal or is it deeper than that?
Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.
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