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'Think Like A Man' and the legacy of 'Love Jones'

By Stephanie Goldberg, CNN
updated 1:50 PM EDT, Fri April 27, 2012
Theodore Witcher's
Theodore Witcher's "Love Jones" grossed $12 million at the domestic box office when it was released in 1997.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • After "Love Jones' " 15th anniversary, "Think Like A Man" earns $39 million
  • The film's earnings more than doubled its $12.5 million budget
  • Screenwriters say it's hard to get financing for a black film

(CNN) -- It's been 15 years since Darius and Nina fell in love after that pivotal poetry reading in Chicago, but fans of "Love Jones" are still talking about the pair's epic romance.

A highbrow, dramatic love story between two young African-Americans, "Love Jones" grossed a mere $12 million at the domestic box office in 1997, but it has an enduring cult following that can certainly be attributed to the film's authenticity.

One month after "Love Jones' " 15th anniversary, however, "Think Like A Man" earned more than $39 million domestically in its first week. Featuring a predominantly African-American ensemble cast, the film adaptation of Steve Harvey's best-selling nonfiction book, raises a frequent question: Is Hollywood finally ready to support more movies featuring African-American love?

The creators behind these stories have hoped the answer to that question would be "yes" "a million times" before, said "Love and Basketball" writer/director Gina Prince-Bythewood. "Maybe ('Think Like A Man') is the spark."

Filmmakers say Hollywood executives, often citing humble box office numbers, can be skeptical when it comes to pouring money into African-American productions. Prince-Bythewood's 2000 movie, for example, is still a fan favorite but earned just $27 million domestically in theaters.

Keith Merryman and David A. Newman, who wrote the screenplay for "Think Like A Man," say it's difficult to get financing for a black film. The film only had $12.5 million to play with, but given its box office success thus far, the men hope bigger budgets will increasingly be available to films featuring actors of color.

With the exception of Taraji P. Henson's character, Lauren, who was written as an African-American, Merryman and Newman said, they "didn't know what color the whole thing was going to be going in." Their main concern, Newman said, was exploring the universal differences between men and women.

The pair said they have an interracial couple they wanted in the film and their race "is never commented on," but the couple's problems stem from the fact that he refuses to grow up and be a man.

"African-American filmmakers, we know the audience is there," "Love & Basketball's" Prince-Bythewood said. "It's just, the films that are made are not always as great as they can be, so when one fails, they think, 'the African-American audience isn't going,' as opposed to, 'it wasn't a very good movie.' "

"Love Jones" writer/director Theodore Witcher adds that when one action movie fails at the box office, nobody assumes it's because people aren't interested in seeing action movies. But that's been the case with romantic dramas.

"There's a dearth of love stories in general," said Witcher, who's currently working on a "Love Jones" sequel. "You don't see a lot of romantic dramas from Hollywood of any kind. ... By the time that concept trickles down to black people, there's nothing really."

Most of the movies starring African-American casts that do feature a love story are meant to be comedic and aimed at a very specific audience, Prince-Bythewood said. (Even "Think Like A Man," which rests on its love stories, is very much a comedy.)

And although Tyler Perry's films routinely attract moviegoers, studios seem to view his movies as a separate genre, she continued.

"I would love to just obliterate this idea of black film being a genre," she said. "It shouldn't be a genre. There should just be films with African-American casts."

"Think Like A Man" might have attracted a more mainstream audience because of the way it was marketed.

There were advertisements for the film all over the place, Prince-Bythewood said. It appeared to target a much wider demographic than films like "Love & Basketball" and "Love Jones," she added.

Whether the flick will continue to draw crowds in its second weekend at the box office remains to be seen, but its performance to date might be enough to warrant more films of its kind -- and quite possibly a sequel, as one of the film's stars, Kevin Hart, recently suggested.

When a movie like "Think Like A Man" comes out, audiences flock to theaters, Prince-Bythewood said. "There's a huge audience out there, starved for content."

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