Hollywood fabric, our thought processes about what stories to tell must assimilate—at least to some degree. That was The Cosby Show’s recipe for success in the 1980s.
The success of The Butler underscores this same trend in film. Wil Haygood, the author of the book that served as the film’s inspiration, is a writer at the Washington Post. He found a good story, used his platform and caught the attention of Sony Pictures, who initially optioned the film. When the film’s producer died three weeks before filming began, director Lee Daniels and other Hollywood notables came together to gather financing for the film. In all, 26 investors (including BET’s Sheila Johnson and a Chinese investor) invested in the film. The Weinstein Company came on with distribution and finishing funds. This movie happened because it had a platform, and it had a good story that investors and ultimately Hollywood believed in.
Tyler Perry definitely has a seat at the Table, which allows him to write, produce and direct his own movies and gross over a half billion dollars. Perry can tell his stories his way because Hollywood recognizes his ability to draw in his niche audience. But notice the difference. Perry, with all of his success, can’t get a show on network television because the networks (which rely heavily on advertising dollars) aren’t having that. This isn’t a just a Black thing, it’s a niche thing.
Comedian Adam Sandler, who makes similarly silly films catered to White folks, doesn’t have a show on network TV either. Damon Wayans’s My Wife and Kids and Chris Rock’s Everybody Hates Chris, on the other hand, each ran for five years on network television because theirs were TV families everyone could relate to.
We need the successes of the Scandals, The Cosby Shows and Everybody Hates Chrises and films like The Butler, The Best Man and Jumping the Broom to show Hollywood that we’re not all that different than they are. Only then can we have that convergence, have Hollywood appreciate us for who we really are, and green light the stories we strive to tell. We’ve come a long way baby, but we still have even further to go.
Lisa Bonner is an entertainment lawyer with offices in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @lisabonner.