The Bean Counter Mentality In African-American Film

Marcus | 9/13/2012, 7 p.m.
What we ought to be most loathed of is when “bean counters” dress themselves up as film critics and/or nestle ...

What we ought to be most loathed of is when “bean counters” dress themselves up as film critics and/or nestle themselves in film festival administrations or studio executive positions as gatekeepers to inhibit the progression of art for the Godless sake of profit.  And what I mean by “bean counters” are those industry professionals or observers who can quote you chapter and verse about the box office numbers of any film and detail for you in a single breath audience demographics, per screen averages, production budgets, above-the-line costs, SAG minimums, points on the gross, and the increase in the price of chewing gum from the year a film was made when it is adjusted for inflation today.

But these very “bean counters” rarely tell you anything as equally in depth and detailed about the experience of a film, whether you’re making one or seeing one; they have no love for the art of film.  Film is just a consumer product to them with all the prestige of ordering a “Big Mac”.  Movies are simply a business practice made up of products (individual films) that they have reduced to cold hard box-office numbers and numbers don’t lie… or do they?

The explicit purpose of this article is to challenge the soulless money grubbing mentality that infects African-American filmmaking.  I’m talking about that reductive,” If it don’t make dollars, it don’t make sense,” ethos that crushes the idealism, passion and ambition of African-American filmmakers by reducing the practice of filmmaking to a cold calculated cash grab cloaked in hypocritical “uplift the race” sentiments and backed up by over generalized demographic evidence.

Film is an art form –and I know this doesn’t get repeated enough today because no one wants to appear as a fool- but I’ll bear that insult and say it again: film is an art form and all the bean-counters in the world can retort,” Film is also a business,” but they cannot deny the fact that film is also an art form even if they choose to ignore it by only looking at the box-office grosses and convincing others to do the same.

We would do well to keep in mind as we investigate this “bean-counter mentality” that shackles African-American cinema solely to notion of profit that Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 film VERTIGO performed sluggishly at the box office and was assessed with mixed critical reviews at the time of its release.  Over time, VERTIGO was rediscovered by French critics and audiences around the world and is now highly regarded as a key masterpiece of the cinematic art form.(1)

VERTIGO just recently knocked Orson Welles’ 1941 film CITIZEN KANE off the top spot as British magazine Sight & Sound’s 100 greatest films.  Moreover, even Welles’ CITIZEN KANE was a commercial flop at the time of its release, but again it is still hailed as a masterpiece filled with visual, editorial and narrative innovations that have all been absorbed nearly to the point of invisibility within our conceptualization of modern commercial filmmaking.