Which Black Director is Most Boffo at the Box Office: Spike Lee, Tyler Perry, John Singleton, or Keenan Ivory Wayans?

When a movie makes a lot of money in its theatrical release, they say it’s “boffo at the box office.”

The four most prominent black directors of the past 10-15 years are Spike Lee, Tyler Perry, John Singleton, and Keenan Ivory Wayans. Which of these four has had the most success at the box office?

I went to two sites that provide box office informtion by director: Box Office Mojo and The Numbers. The two sites differ slightly in the numbers they report. When there were differences, I took the average of the two sites.

Here are the box office numbers for the four directors.

 
Spike Lee
Tyler Perry
John Singleton
Keenan Wayans

Total Box Office

$373,204,582

$369,939,423

$436,302,252

$399,329,117

Average Box Office

$20,733,588

$52,848,489

$54,537,781

$66,554,853

In total, John Singleton has been the most successful in total box office, but Keenan Ivory Wayans has done the best on average.

These numbers reflect the domestic box office only. Foreign box office and rental numbers are not included, as they are harder to get. If I can find the time, I might go back and update this post with foreign and rental sales information.

These are the movies for each director, and their domestic box office:

Spike Lee Movies

If Lee’s numbers were adjusted for inflation, they’d look better compared to the other directors. But even so, it’s clear that Lee is not a big money maker. Only one of his films, Inside Man, did over $50 million at the box office.

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Check It Out: Links of Interest, 4/13/09

Here are links to some recommended reads.

Abagond has a blog entry about actress Ellen Holly:

Ellen Holly (1931- ) is an American actress, the first black actress ever to appear regularly on a soap opera. She played Carla Hall on “One Life to Live” from 1968 to 1985. She also played the president’s wife in “School Daze” (1988).

Holly grew up in New York, the daughter of a chemical engineer and a librarian. She studied acting at Hunter College and went on from there to act on stage. By 1956 she was on Broadway. She got in to the Actors Studio, the first black woman ever to do so. She later got parts in film and television too.

In 1968 Holly wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Times about what it was like to be a light-skinned black woman. Agnes Dixon, who was then starting a new soap called “One Life to Live”, read that letter. It led her to create the character of Carla Gray (later Hall). She offered the part to Holly herself. Holly took it and became the first regular black female character on a soap. Other soaps soon followed their lead and had black characters of their own too.

I remember watching Holly on One Life to Live as a teenager. At the time, I didn’t appreciate that she was breaking new ground for black actors in the soaps.

I can see why so many people thought she was white: it wasn’t until the late 1960s that color TVs started selling in large numbers. On black and white TV, her light skin did make her look white.

She started out on the show doing a story line where she is a black person passing for white. A white male character on the show actually proposed to her, but she had to reject the proposal because she was not white. I later found out that the theme of the “tragic mulatto who passes for white” was a not an uncommon one for Hollywood (see Imitation of Life). But at the time, I was shocked that this kind of race-sensitive stuff was being shown on daytime television.
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Monroe, Louisiana is a city of about 50,000 in north central Louisiana. It’s about a half hour drive from Grambling University. The following is from a recent story in the Monroe Free Press, which is one of the city’s African American newspapers:

Monroe: The city where it’s safe to say Nigga
City won’t fire or reprimand foul mouthed department heads

It started a few years back when we started reporting about the tendency of our police chief to curse and use extremely foul and graphic language publicly. In one instance he even told the police chief of Sterlington to get under the table and suck his…

There were no reprimands, lost days of pay, or other slaps on the wrist. The subliminal message is that such language is acceptable for department heads…

The most recent problems occurred this year when Sean Benton the Superintendent of Monroe’s Water Distribution plant was accused of referring to black employees of his department as Niggas and routinely using foul language and expletives in his references to others. Police had to be called once when Benton took off his shirt to fight a subordinate…

What raises eyebrows is that Benton is black. Most of his “Nigga” comments were made to blacks. The issue that this raises is whether or not “Nigga” is an generally offensive by whites but acceptable when used by blacks.

Because Benton has not been fired or reprimanded by the city’s black mayor it appears to be an endorsement of “Nigga” as acceptable language for a black professional in a department head status to use toward subordinates.

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There’s been a slew of articles written in the past year or so about Tyler Perry. A recent piece about him in Entertainment Weekly, titled Tyler Perry: The Controversy Over His Hit Movies, claims to go “inside black America’s secret culture war”:

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