Over the weekend, Thor 2 remained in the top spot at the box office, but the big story was that Best Man Holiday, a movie most white people hadn’t even heard of, landed in number two with $30.5 million. With an audience that was reportedly 75 percent female and 87 percent African-American, it crushed almost every “white” movie released in the last two months, from Prisoners ($20 m) to Last Vegas ($16 m) to Ender’s Game ($27 m) to Carrie ($16 m), all while opening on fewer theaters.
It was an interesting story, which USA Today initially chose to report with the regrettable headline “‘Holiday’ Nearly Beat ‘Thor’ as Race-Themed Films Soar“. Hey, at least it rhymed, right? That’s important. Trouble is, Best Man Holiday is relationship movie starring black people, and is about as “race-themed” as Thor is “hair-themed.” Which many pointed out.
‘USA Today calls movies with black people in them race-themed Cos black people are a genre. Like superhero movies” tweeted Sindi Nikosi.
“So according to USA Today any any movie showing Black people acting like humans is considered a race-themed movie,” said T. Brown via Twitter.
“Why are movies that star people of color ‘race-themed’ but movies starring whites are not USA Today?” tweeted April. “Is friendship a race theme?”
When that headline drew a blast of complaints, it was soon changed to “‘Holiday’ Nearly Beats ‘Thor’ as Ethnically Diverse Films Soar.” The original tweet was deleted, too. [Reuters/ChicagoTribune]
Sadly, that headline wasn’t much more accurate, as you can see by the poster. If college brochures have taught me anything, it’s that representing “diverse” requires at least one Latin guy and one Asian girl (and a guy in a wheelchair for extra credit). USA Today eventually changed their headline to “Best Man Holiday’ Nearly Beats Mighty ‘Thor’“, but the mini debacle was just the latest example of how impossible most media outlets find it to talk about race.
Variety, for instance, still gets away with calling it a “hit in the urban market,” a tried-and-true euphemism implying that black people are the only ones who live in cities. Look, I’m no expert on not offending people, but I think the first two considerations in terms of whether your headline is offensive or not should be 1, is the headline demonstrably untrue or inaccurate? I.e., describing a movie with black people in it as “race-themed” or “ethnically diverse” when it’s strikingly not? And 2, are you using some cutesy euphemism like “urban” to describe African-American audiences to avoid saying what you really mean? Save those cutesy, winking “this isn’t what we mean but you know what we mean” words and headlines to deal with farts and sex, not brown people.
And now that the dust has settled somewhat, let’s not forget the most important thing. We lost a great rhyming headline today.