Raoul Peck film on James Baldwin set for European premiere tonight in Berlin
Raoul Peck's I Am Not Your Negro dominated the documentary box office once again, earning upwards of $1 mil. in its second weekend of release in North America.
Audience measurement firm comScore reported IANYN made $820,831, pushing its total to $1,839,871. The film added more than 70 screens to its number from the week before, helping to maintain robust box office fortunes.
IANYK, which competes for an Academy Award for best feature documentary on February 26, is based on an unpublished manuscript James Baldwin embarked on before his death, an elegy to three slain civil rights and racial justice giants he had known -- Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Medgar Evers. The Baldwin estate gave Peck full access to the writer's work -- published and otherwise -- including his letters. Actor Samuel L. Jackson voices portions of the writer's work in the film.
Its strong box office performance comes amid a report by the PBS Newshour program suggesting IANYK may have been the object of a "vote brigading" campaign, an alleged attempt by opponents of the documentary's message to seemingly inflate negative ratings for the film online.
The evidence lies in the disparity between reaction to the film by critics -- who have almost universally praised the film for its relevance and artistry -- and fan reactions on sites like imdb.com. There the film's "user rating" is currently a mere 6.2 out of 10, in contrast to rottentomatoes.com where 98-percent of critics surveyed liked the film.
The Newshour piece reported, "At IMDB, the film had a 4.9 star average out of 10 from almost 900 reviewers as of Friday morning [February 3], the day of the film's release. Many reacted negatively to the movie's trailer and premise, though it was unclear how many could have actually seen the film."
Reacting online to a film, even if one hasn't seen it, falls within the realm of free speech. However, the Newshour piece suggested a possible cynical motive behind the suspiciously low 'user ratings' for Peck's film -- the practice of "rallying multiple online users to knock down an entity's score."
Others are voting for the film with their dollars, however, resulting in a first place finish for the film at the box office in its first two weeks of release. The documentary will cross the $2 mil. mark in revenue this week, a rare achievement for any nonfiction film. Few documentaries achieve those kind of totals and if they do generally it requires much longer than two weeks to accomplish the task.
The film's distributor, Magnolia Pictures, offers a selection of "social assets" which fans of I Am Not Your Negro can download for sharing on Facebook, Twitter and similar sites.
The film is set to celebrate its European premiere tonight at the Berlin Film Festival. Peck is at the Berlinale with two films -- IANYN and the narrative/fictional film Le Jeune Karl Marx [The Young Karl Marx], a biographical film on Marx and his relationship with collaborator Friedrich Engels.
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on Deadline.com, CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and in Documentary magazine.