Weekend Box Office Sept. 30 - Oct. 2 (Why 'Katwe' Tanked + The 'Miss Peregrine' Casting Controversy)
Photo Credit: QUEEN OF KATWE
Box Office , Film

Weekend Box Office Sept. 30 - Oct. 2 (Why 'Katwe' Tanked + The 'Miss Peregrine' Casting Controversy)


Let’s be honest here. We all knew that “The Queen of Katwe” would be a tough sell at the box office. But I thought the film would do reasonably well once positive word of mouth got out about it. And Disney certainly had faith in the film, putting up a lot of money for a suitable PR campaign for the movie. I lost count of how many times I saw ads for the film on TV, and online. The film expanded to 1242 screens after opening in a limited number of theaters (only 52 screens) last weekend. But it did well enough at the box office on its opening weekend, that Disney must have thought they had a real fall sleeper on their hands, and so expanded its reach sharply (from 52 screens to 1242).

But to their (and my) surprise, the film did even worse than imagined, coming in at 7th place this weekend, with $2.6 million, and just over $3 million so far. That means theaters currently screening the film will likely start to move it to their smaller screening rooms, or replace it altogether with a more lucrative title.

So what happened? I can only give a few guesses. You’re free to provide your own as well.

1) It’s “Africa” – Let’s face it, any film set on the African continent, telling a story about Africans, is always going to be a hard sell to American audiences. There’s a resistance to those films by the American public that’s tough to crack. They hear the word “Africa” and immediately they think of what they’ve been fed by the American media: dark skinned people starving to death, violence, genocide, corruption, etc. The average white film-goers reject a film like “Katwe” in part because it doesn’t fit their expected narrative of “Africa.” And the film doesn’t star a major white actor/actress, like Leonardo DiCaprio in “Blood Diamonds,” with black people typically relegated to a few supporting roles and extras, to add “local color” to the background of the film. It can be set in Africa, as long as it’s not too African.

2) Where are the black folks? – OK so white audiences are not going to see the film. That’s all right. We don’t need them. You can name dozens of black films that were major box office successes, thanks to only those tickets sold to black audiences (Tyler Perry’s films, or those “Best Man” movies to mention a few). But this time, they didn’t show up. Where are did all the black folks go?

You all keep saying that this is the kind of film we should be supporting; but, seriously, both you and I know that’s a load of B.S. Black folks love to say that, likely because they think it makes them look conscientious; but you really don’t mean it. “Katwe” looked and smelled like a “castor oil” film – a term I’ve used several times in the past to describe a good film that’s good for you, but had to swallow. Audiences, especially black audiences, avoid those films like the plague. As someone I know once said about these types of films, they’re like going to your child’s school recital. In other words you REALLY don’t want to go, and will do anything you can to avoid it if you can, but will go under extreme duress, just to support your kid.

And if we’re being honest here, African-Americans (AAs) aren’t going to support a film set in Africa either, just as white folks typically don’t. Maybe it’s due to any conflict that exists between AAs and Africans, like, for example, some AAs feeling that Africans think they’re better than them. And still too many black people are ashamed of their African roots (If I hear one more black person boast about their Native American or European ancestry, I swear I’m going to punch them).

3) No box office stars – Yes Lupita Nyong’o and David Oyelowo are very popular; and Nyong’o is even an Oscar winner. But they have yet to prove that they can carry a film. Yes “Selma” did well at the box office, but Oyelowo played a significant real-life historical person, not a fictional one, so we could argue that, with another actor playing MLK, the film would have done just as well.

And Nyong’o has basically been playing supporting roles since her Oscar win; that is when she has actually been on the screen as her physical self, and not voicing some CGI animated or cartoon character for a movie. Would a *bigger* name have helped “Katwe”, like maybe Viola Davis in the lead role? Maybe or maybe not. The sad thing is that, though Oyelowo will still get work after the failure of “Katwe” (he’s got three major roles in 2017, including “A United Kingdom” and the sci-fi film “The God Particle”), this could have more of a negative effect on Nyong’o’s job prospects, in that she still may not be up for any lead roles any time soon – specifically in Hollywood – and may have to rely on her clout and ability to produce projects for herself to star in, like the adaptation of “Americanah” which Brad Pitt’s Plan B has gotten behind. She is appearing in Marvel’s “Black Panther” movie, although in a supporting role; and there was the sci-fi thriller, “Intelligent Life,” from Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment, that Ava DuVernay was circling to direct (she’s no longer directing it). Nyong’o was “in talks” to star in the film when DuVernay was interested, but it doesn’t appear that she even signed on.

4) No white savior – One of the great things about “Katwe” is that there isn’t one, which is rare for these kinds of uplifting movies centered around the lives of black people. But was a “white savior” really needed to make audiences go see the film? I hate to think so, however, I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s what studio executives are likely to think: “Nobody wants to see a serious film with nothing but black people. Maybe if we had Sandra Bullock helping that poor black girl, like she helped that big dumb black guy in ‘The Blind Side’, people would have rushed out to see it.”

And keep in mind “The Blind Side” made $256 million domestically. The bigger question is, would black people have gone out to see if a white star was in the film? I hate to think so. Although all the money “The Blind Side” didn’t just come from white film-goers.

What do you say about “Katwe’s” box office performance?

The No. 1 film this weekend was Tim Burton’s fantastical “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children”, which made $28 million, which is OK for this sort of film, but not great. And Burton could use a hit, since he’s been in a real career slump for a while, after hitting an all-time peak with his “Alice in Wonderland” film, which grossed over a billion dollars for Disney.

But the film – which some have called “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children but Only if They’re White” – generated some controversy. In an interview earlier this week, while doing press for the film, Burton was asked about the lack of diversity in his films; or to put it bluntly, how come he only casts white people in his movies? He responded this way: “Nowadays, people are talking about it more. But things either call for things, or they don’t. I remember back when I was a child watching ‘The Brady Bunch’ and they started to get all politically correct. Like, OK, let’s have an Asian child and a black. I used to get more offended by that than just… I grew up watching blaxploitation movies, right? And I said, that’s great. I didn’t go like, OK, there should be more white people in these movies.”

OK that was convoluted; but if I understand what he’s saying, it’s the same old excuse that other white filmmakers have given: that he would only cast a black person in the film if it called for a black person, as if he can’t expand his mind in terms of casting.

People defending him are arguing that, in the case of “Miss Peregrine,” the film is set in the UK during World War II, and having an all white cast makes sense. Except that England, even during the 1940’s, has always had a very significant people of color population, including West Indians, Africans, Asians and especially Indians. And yes, Samuel L. Jackson is in the film, but of course he’s playing the bad guy, which is the perfect role for a black person in Burton’s opinion I suppose.

The disaster film “Deepwater Horizon” with Mark Wahlberg, came in second, with $20.6 million; and “The Magnificent Seven” came in third with $15.7 million, earning almost $62 million so far. The film looks headed for about $95-100 million domestically; but it’s doing every well overseas, with $21 million to date, pulling in big numbers in the UK. Russia, Germany, Brazil and especially South Korea. And it still has yet to open in other countries around the world, including France and Japan.

This weekend’s top 12 box office earners follows below:

1) Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children Fox $28,500,000

2) Deepwater Horizon LG/S $20,600,000

3) The Magnificent Seven Sony $15,700,000 Total: $61,605,901

4) Storks WB $13,800,000 Total: $38,811,274

5) Sully WB $8,400,000 Total: $105,387,463

6) Masterminds Rela. $6,600,000

7) Queen of Katwe BV $2,608,000 Total: $3,011,009

8) Don’t Breathe SGem $2,375,000 Total: $84,734,937

9) Bridget Jones’s Baby Uni. $2,330,000 Total: $20,981,735

10) Snowden ORF $2,029,390 Total: $18,729,637

11) Suicide Squad WB $1,905,000 Total: $320,845,629

12) Blair Witch LGF $1,575,000 Total: $19,132,088

Shadow and Act is a website dedicated to cinema, television and web content of Africa and its global Diaspora. With daily news, interviews, in-depth investigations into the audiovisual industry, and more, Shadow and Act promotes content created by and about people of African descent throughout the world.

© 2023 Shadow & Act. All rights reserved.