What In The Hell Does Kevin Hart’s Success Have To Do With “12 Years A Slave”?

February 22, 2014  |  

It’s becoming clearer by the day that the mainstream (i.e., white folk-majority) really does have a hard time differentiating between black folks.

I’m not just talking about the many instances in the media of mistaken identities between two black celebrities (i.e., confusing Sam Jackson with Laurence Fishburne or Nelson Mandela with Morgan Freeman) whose only shared attributes are the color of their skin and hair. But I’m also talking about the act of lumping all black occurrences together, regardless if those occurrences have anything to do with each other or not.

Take for instance this profile of Kevin Hart and his rise in Hollywood. Variety‘s film reporter, Andrew Stewart, is confused by it and is trying to figure out how two films (Ride Along and About Last Night), starring teeny-tiny Hart, both have become box office smash hits. Understandably, everyone, including yours truly, has spoken about the amount of work Hart has been getting as of late. I speculated that we might be seeing too much of him. However, Stewart presents a much more peculiar theory about Hart’s star power:

Hart’s seemingly overnight hit status also is due, in part, to the recent success of urban-targeted films in general, including “The Best Man Holiday” and “12 Years a Slave,” both of which were released late last year.”

Um, say what now?

Now I know I spent a considerable amount of time, weeping through some very real and very angry tears during Steve McQueen’s masterpiece, so my memory may be a bit foggy. But I do not recall Hart’s munchkin behind in the film. And now that I think about it, he wasn’t in The Best Man Holiday either. So what does either film’s success have to do with Hart’s rise in Hollywood? I thought that maybe if I look to the next line or paragraph in the report, I might get a better understanding. Nope. Just more shock and awe about how well a film with a black lead did at the box office, considering “African American-themed films typically do not travel well outside the U.S. (Side note: I never understood that logic considering I’ve been told that most of the bootlegs of black films online always have some Eastern European or Asian languages subtitled into it).”

Now I know Hart is not some folks’ favorite person (for a mirage of reasons), but even still, this bit of shade from a respected industry publication is a bit ridiculous. Okay, lots of ridiculous. I’m not going to even get into the question of how and why the writer drew correlations between 12 Years A Slave, a film based on the personal accounts of a free black man being kidnapped into slavery, and The Best Man Holiday, a comedy about fictional black friends with loads of personal relationship drama – other then to say that both films did well and have black people in them, which might make them easier to malign by those with existing racial biases. I mean, this is the same Hollywood, which will fawn over Slumdog Millionaire and Amelie (sorry, those are the first foreign and English-based films that came to mind), but can’t sit through an American-born Negro-produced film without it being classified as not for them (i.e., “urban-targeted”).

Likewise, if Stewart wanted to speculate about correlation and causation between black Hollywood and the trajectory of Hart’s career, than perhaps a better place to start would be with Denzel Washington, Wesley Snipes, Will Smith, Idris Elba or the other single leading men, whom Hollywood only seems to recognize at one time. Because a story like that would probably peel back the curtains on a number of other black actors and actresses, who have been 12 Years A Slav-ing away for years in all those urban-targeted movies Stewart doesn’t think are for him.

Kevin Hart has put so many years into building his brand. Outside of a bit role in Scary Movie 3, Hart would first catch the public’s eye in the disastrously bad cult classic Soul Plane and then again when he delivered one of the most classic Negro-moment, “pop the trunk,” scenes in cinema in the film, The 40-Year-Old-Virgin. Folks didn’t know his name yet, but by 2006, Hart produced and released his first stand-up album and film called I’m a Little Grown Man, which slowly help to create a buzz around barber and beauty salons all across America. It would be his second album and film, Seriously Funny, which was released four years later, that would propel him into a black household name.

Armed with a dedicated fan base, Hart would again produce and release Laugh at My Pain, which opened in 90 cities and grossed more than $8 million. His recent concert film, Let Me Explain, which was released last year, grossed nearly $32 million, which is a fantastic profit considering it cost only $2.5 million to make. According to Box Office Mojo, Let Me Explain and Laugh At My Pain are both within the top ten grossing comedy shows of all times. And according to every single person in my timeline, Hart just might be the most quoted contemporary comedian of the last 20 years. Oh, and then there is the little romantic comedy film Think Like A Man, which Hart would star in as part of an ensemble cast. That film would gross more than $96 million worldwide and would secure the number one spot at the domestic box office for two weeks straight. All of this is to say that Stewart had a lot of available information, which he could have used to explain Hart’s rise.

Not to mention his wildly popular BET show, Real Husbands of Hollywood, which even has the critics at Roger Ebert.com’s Balder & Dash, perplexed as to why it is not as hyped as other cable TV shows on air right now – especially since last year, RHOH was cable’s number-one sitcom among adults in the 18-to-49 demographic. As B&D writer Craig D. Lindsey wrote of the RHOH snub:

Once again, you should see Hart’s mug on all the magazine covers, not unlike fellow stand-up sensation Louis C.K., whose acclaimed, Emmy-winning FX show “Louie” helped him land covers on Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly. Unfortunately, even with web sites like Slate declaring he is the most successful comic working today, I’ve only seen Hart on the cover of Ebony.”

As this New York Times article points out, Hart’s audience has largely been around 60 to 70 percent black, which may explain why his success at the box office might seem strange or a surprise to some, including Stewart. But let it be clear that’s Hart’s rise is not because of the success of 12 Years…or The Best Man Holiday, but rather, a result of many years of work he put into connecting and building a fan base in audiences, whom many in Hollywood seems dead set on writing off in the first place.

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