Taye Diggs may be in this week’s box office champion, ”The House on Haunted Hill,” but an even bigger winner is his No. 2 film, ”The Best Man.” With an all African-American cast and a clever story line, Malcolm D. Lee’s directorial debut about a group of college friends reunited for a wedding is succeeding where so many dramas about African Americans have failed: It’s garnering studio support AND scoring with ticket sales. Last week it opened at No. 1 and has already made $18 million – double its $9 million budget.
Considering that most serious all-black films have tanked – the well-reviewed ”Eve’s Bayou,” and ”Love Jones” grossed less than $13 million each, while the Oprah-backed ”Beloved” made only $22 million – ”The Best Man”’s current popularity is even more remarkable. ”I’m so glad Universal took ‘The Best Man’ on,” says Diggs, 27, who plays a rising novelist. ”Usually, producers see two black faces and think, Oh it’s a black film, forget about it.”
Diggs says that studio execs usually prefer to stick to the ”Booty Call” recipe: They market low-budget black-oriented comedies that will automatically make a profit in urban theaters, but refuse to make or support substantive dramas that seek a universal audience. ”White executives don’t want to risk alienating white audiences, because to be honest, they don’t need black people to see their movies,” Diggs says. Meanwhile, rising black actors have to wait for Spike Lee’s next casting call or settle for a token role as the white hero’s sidekick. ”There’s Denzel and Will Smith on top of the world, but the industry will only let a few of us in at a time,” Diggs says. ”I dare you to find a blockbuster film one of them opened that had two other black people in the main cast. You won’t.”