October 16, 2008

Will The Secret Life of Bees Suffer the Bradley Effect?

Hollywood does advance tracking of its films just like political campaigns do exit polls. The Secret Life of Bees opens tomorrow and the LA Times raised the question of whether white moviegoers (i.e white women) will see the movie even if they told the trackers that they were interested.

The story is very narrow and makes it seems that Bees was just being targeted at the African American market. I've seen ads everywhere and hear it constantly on NPR. I'd like to broaden the conversation and look to the successes of women's films this past summer, and films made from books for indicators just as much as the African American movies Amistad and Ray which the story cited. Look at the success of the recent romance Nights in Rodanthe which was also based on a huge best selling book that appealed to women. It made $13 million on opening weekend just a couple of weeks ago.

The Secret Life of Bees is targeted at women, not just black women. It's a women's story that should have universal appeal. We never have these kinds of conversations about men's stories which are assumed to be universal. Tracking shows that 68% of African Americans are definitely interested and only 34% of whites. Is it lower among whites because the teenage boys are not interested? I'd love to know where and how they do the tracking and how they do their sampling. Is it even split among men and women? Young and old? different ethnicities? (I'm going to look into this.)

This movie actually has all the elements to bring in a diverse group of women. It's got Queen Latifah and Dakota Fanning, as well as music superstar Alicia Keyes and Oscar winner and American Idol contestant Jennifer Hudson. It's a story about family, about strength and about love. It takes place on the cusp of the civil rights movement and so many of the themes are relevant to today.

Here's a quote from director Gina Prince-Bythewood

No one has ever seen this book as a black book...I am hoping that in the age of Obama, we can look at a trailer for a film and say, 'It doesn't matter who's in this, but does the story appeal to me?' "
So are we beyond race in the movies? We are with Will Smith. The man is biggest movie star in the world. I hope we are beyond race for women's films too, just like I hope we are beyond race at the voting booth. While this is a fictional film and its success or failure should give no real indication about whether some white people who say they will vote for Obama actually will, it will feel damn good if we get enough people out to the theatre this weekend to support The Secret Life of Bees. To me the most important thing to declare this weekend is that women are a viable market and that we will see stories that resonate with us and that we want Hollywood to make and release more films by and about women.

It opens in 1600 theatres across the country tomorrow.

If you're in NY, come see it with the Women & Hollywood film club on Sunday afternoon at 4:30 at the AMC on Broadway & 68th steet.

'Secret Life of Bees' is a test case for mainstream appeal (LA Times)
Will white moviegoers go see 'The Secret of Life of Bees'? (LA Times)