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BOX OFFICE Most popular flicks feature black stars



Published: Tue, February 1, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Never before have two movies featuring black stars sat atop the box office standings.

By ADAM NICHOLS

KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS

NEW YORK -- Ice Cube and Samuel L. Jackson made cinema history last week.

The two stars' movies -- "Are We There Yet?" and "Coach Carter" -- ran one-two atop the list of biggest movie box-office earners.

That's the first time that movies starring black actors have occupied the top two slots, industry analysts believe.

The milestone seems surprising, especially when movies starring Denzel Washington, Halle Berry or Will Smith often draw big audiences.

But the closest anyone had come this decade was in June 2000, when a remake of "Shaft" starring Jackson was No. 1 and "Big Momma's House" starring Martin Lawrence was No. 3.

"I can't find another example of when we had two movies with black actors on top," said Brandon Gray of Box Office Mojo.

The achievement marks a major shift in society's attitudes to black actors, according to author and New York University Prof. Ed Guerrero, an authority on African-American cinema.

"I thought about this when Denzel Washington, Halle Berry and Sidney Poitier swept the Oscars in 2002," he said.

"Black films are crossing over, they're being designed more for the middle market, and they've become extremely popular.

Issue? What issue?

"Seeing a black lead actor just isn't an issue for people anymore. It would have been just 10 years ago."

Moviegoers in New York agreed.

"Black actors or white actors, who cares?" said Craig McLean, 34, a housing maintenance worker from Brooklyn who saw "Are We There Yet?" at a Loews cinema on Saturday. "It matters how good the actor is, not what color they are."

And Rachel Welbourn, 42, a teacher from Minneapolis, agreed.

"Anybody with kids would find this movie funny, whether they're black or white."

"Are We There Yet?" grossed $18.5 million last weekend. "Coach Carter" made $11 million.

"The black influence is still very much in both of these films, but this is not the same situation we had 20 years ago," Guerrero said. "People are less touchy about race. There has been a cultural change, no doubt about it.

"Black people are now at a high level in music, fashion, entertainment. Black culture has become a huge part of American culture as a whole, particularly with Hollywood's main audience of the 14- to 24-year-olds.

"This is not the same situation we had 20 years ago. In the past, having African-Americans in lead roles would have been an issue. Now I don't think it is.

"It's very encouraging. The biggest hurdle now is finding a really big black matinee idol like Brad Pitt."

Or you could just pair Ice Cube and Jackson together -- which will happen in "XXX2: The Next Level," set to open April 29.




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