A KEEPER SO FAR: Dakota Fanning, left, and Queen Latifah star in ?The Secret… (Fox Searchlight )
The makers of "The Secret Life of Bees" worried that white moviegoers might hesitate supporting a movie with a nearly all-black cast. After the film's third weekend in theaters, it's not only clear that white ticket buyers are not staying away, but also that "The Secret Life of Bees" is a minor hit with women of both races.
With a cast that includes Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson and Alicia Keys opposite Dakota Fanning, "Bees" grossed an estimated $4 million to finish in seventh place over the weekend. If it maintains its momentum, the film (with a total gross of $25.3 million) may have a chance to surpass the total gross of Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio's "Body of Lies," which has cumulative ticket sales of $34.6 million.
Though "Bees" opened strongly and continues to sell tickets at theaters catering to African Americans, it is sometimes doing even better business in locations whose customers are mostly white. On Friday and Saturday (Sunday numbers were not available) at Pacific's the Grove Stadium 14, "Bees" grossed $3,630. Over the same two days at the AMC Magic Johnson Crenshaw 15, the film had reported ticket sales of $3,098.
"The movie is playing in two parallel realms," says Stephen Gilula, the co-chief operating officer of "The Secret Life of Bees" maker and distributor Fox Searchlight. "It's playing as an African American film, and it's playing as a mainstream female film."
The audience for the film, adapted from Sue Monk Kidd's bestselling novel, is as much as 70% female, Gilula says.
As often happens with films attracting black audiences, "Bees" opened strongly in theaters frequented by African Americans but fell sharply in its second weekend. The film's grosses at AMC Southlake Pavilion 24 in Morrow, Ga., for example, fell more than 61% over the Oct. 24-26 weekend.
But in theaters that cater more to white patrons, support remained strong. "Bees" sales at Regal Cinemas Bridgeport Village Stadium 18 in Tigard, Ore., were down just 32.1% over that same Oct. 24 weekend and were almost unchanged this last weekend.
Given the strong presidential election polling for Sen. Barack Obama and the fact that Will Smith is by far Hollywood's biggest star, the "Bees" results are not entirely surprising.
But the film's returns do come at a time when several movies with mostly all-black casts have struggled. Among the recent casualties are "The Express" and "Miracle at St. Anna." With its strong showing this weekend, "The Secret Life of Bees" has now passed those two movies -- combined.