Two new independent films court African American ticket buyers


Movies aimed at African American moviegoers are typically the province of bigger-budget comedies and dramas — the kinds of stories told by Tyler Perry or produced by Screen Gems. But this weekend, two independently financed productions are courting that same audience. The two films — “Life, Love, Soul” and “Woman Thou Art Loosed: On the 7th Day” — couldn’t be more dissimilar.

The first film is a small, self-distributed drama about fatherhood and family, a passion project from first-time filmmaker Noel Calloway with a cast of newcomers. The second movie, a kidnapping drama starring Blair Underwood, was produced and is being released by Codeblack Entertainment, the company behind last year’s Kevin Hart concert movie, “Laugh at My Pain,” which grossed more than $7.7 million in domestic release.

Yet the two productions both hope to draw moviegoers that their filmmakers feel are hungry for content and can be reached without expensive national television advertising.

“It is a very, very underserved audience,” Jeff Clanagan, the president and chief executive of Codeblack, said of African American patrons, whom he estimated would make up more than 90% of the film's audience.

Calloway’s path to the screen was not easy. He wrote the “Life, Love, Soul” script in 1997, soon after graduating from high school in Harlem. “At my graduation, I looked out at the audience and saw mostly mothers and grandmothers,” Calloway said. He struggled raising money to finance his tale of a young man raised by a single mother who has to move in with his estranged father, and his lead investor pulled out halfway through filming in 2007. Calloway, who himself was raised by a single mother, wasn’t able to resume production for two years and only now has brought the movie to theaters; the film is opening in a handful of markets across the country.

“Woman Thou Art Loosed” is a sequel of sorts to the 2004 movie of the same name, based on the novel by Dallas minister T.D. Jakes, who serves as an executive producer on the new film. The movie will premiere in about 100 screens in more than a dozen cities nationally.

While Clanagan said the film could struggle generating big returns in some markets, he was optimistic “Woman Thou Art Loosed” will do well in Atlanta, Baltimore and Washington. “Our target audience is not going to see ‘The Three Stooges,’” he said of 20th Century Fox’s wide-release comedy.

Like “Life, Love, Soul,” Clanagan is using very targeted marketing to reach African American ticket buyers, relying heavily on word-of-mouth screenings and social media. “We’re not buying a lot of network television shows, but we did buy ads on VH1’s ‘Basketball Wives,’” Clanagan said of the cable television reality series.

Calloway hopes his film can find a broader audience. “It isn’t a black story,” the filmmaker said. “It’s about people, it’s about family, it’s about overcoming challenges.”