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Why Did Halle Berry’s ‘Frankie & Alice’ Languish on the Shelf?

It took three years, a Golden Globe nomination and possibly a slew of recent hit films targeting African-American audiences for Halle Berry’s “Frankie & Alice” to finally open in 125 theaters on Friday.

Geoffrey Sax’s gritty drama based on the true story of a 1970s go-go dancer with dissociative identity disorder was shot in 2008 and, after a decade in development and a year on the shelf, it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival to fairly positive reviews in May 2010 and screened at the AFI Film Festival six months later.

But after a one-week qualifying run in a single Los Angeles theater during awards season in December 2010, the movie vanished. The film’s producers Access Motion Pictures never followed through with the February release that had been planned through Freestyle Releasing and yet Berry was still nominated for a Golden Globe in 2011, and won an NAACP Image Award and a Prism Award for her performance in the pic.

As time passed and the movie collected for three years (Berry has since starred in thriller “The Call” and inked a deal to topline a new CBS drama), the possibility of a theatrical release resurfaced last year when Codeblack Films acquired distribution rights in September.

Why So Long?

Although it deals with some taboo topics (aside from portraying a mental illness, the pic also tackles the topic of white supremacy as one of Berry’s personalities is a white racist from Texas), it would seem that “Frankie & Alice” should have been seen due to Berry’s star power alone. In 2001 she became the first African-American to win the best actress Oscar and, despite a few recent flops, she’s also part of two mega-successful franchises: “X-Men” and the James Bond series.

Berry has reportedly been working on the project, which marks her debut as a film producer, in some capacity since the mid-‘90s.

Why Now?

The pic is being released this Friday by one of the first independent African-American-owned production/distribution shingles, Codeblack Films — a division of Lionsgate that launched two years ago by Jeff Clanagan. A Lionsgate rep said the studio doesn’t know what happened to the film before Codeblack acquired it but the recent rise in African American movie attendance may have opened the door for “Frankie & Alice.”

According to a recent MPAA report, more than 170 million African-Americans went to the movies in 2013 — a 13% spike from 2012’s 150 million. Thanks to movies like this year’s best picture Oscar winner “12 Years a Slave,” “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” and “The Best Man Holiday,” African-American movie attendance is up for the first time in four years.

Plus, Berry’s last film “The Call” earned over $68 million worldwide on a small budget of $13 million. While  “Frankie” may be a different kind of movie, the demand for the Oscar-winning actress is still very much real and Codeblack jumped in when the price was surely right.

Perhaps it’s only fitting that the distributor that’s taking Berry’s passion project off the shelf and into theaters was behind the box office success story of Kevin Hart’s stand-up comedy film “Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain.” “Let Me Explain” sparked Hart’s box office hot streak. The comedian has contributed to the recent triumph of several African-American pictures, including “Ride Along,” “About Last Night” and “Think Like a Man.”


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