Keeping up with Kim Kardashian is getting harder and harder. To say she’s full of surprises is an understatement. In the midst of rumors about the newlywed’s recent marriage to NBA player Kris Humphries already being on the rocks, Kim K. has redirected the conversation. Friday, the reality start tweeted that she would be co-starring in Tyler Perry’s latest film, The Marriage Counselor, which reportedly starts filming this week in Atlanta. The film is the latest Perry play to hit the big screen.
Given that Kardashian is bigger than ever at the moment, Perry’s decision to cast her is definitely a great marketing move. Years ago, the natural question would have been “Can she act?” but, today, that seems to be less and less important. Kardashian is already demonstrating her worth. Filming hasn’t even started yet and she’s already grabbed a significant amount of coverage and this happened over the weekend, mind you, when the press and bloggers are not at full speed.
To keep it even realer, fewer folks even know that Jurnee Smollett, known to black audiences for her role in Eve’s Bayou as a child and the Denzel Washington-directed The Great Debaters and to mainstream audiences for her role as Jess Merriweather on Friday Night Lights, stars in the film as the Ivy League-educated marriage counselor Judith whose own marriage is on the brink. Kardashian plays her co-worker Ava.
Although Kardashian has appeared in two films, Disaster Movie and Deep in the Valley, as well as on the television show CSI:NY, this role is her most substantial to date. Kardashian certainly knows how to hitch her brand to a winner and, to quote Charlie Sheen, Perry is certainly “winning” right now.
Last month, Perry topped Forbes’ “Entertainment’s Highest Paid Men” list, besting Jerry Bruckheimer and Steven Spielberg, by netting $130 million from May 2010 to May 2011. Even more impressive, Perry, according to Variety, has generated over $600 million in North American box office receipts in the last six years with 11 films with Lionsgate and sold more than 40 million DVDs.
How unlikely that Kardashian would parlay a sextape with Brandy’s brother Ray J, of all people, and a highly-publicized relationship with NFL player Reggie Bush, into a personal net worth of $35 million? Her reality show, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, hasn’t just made her and her sisters Kourtney and Khloe household names, it’s made them serious bank. Most reality stars have been lucky to make a decent living. Many have not even entertained the major success Kim Kardashian has created.There’s very little doubt that Kardashian is the savvy businesswoman. She has taken celebrity culture to new heights. In August, she and her sisters revealed their “Kardashian” clothing line with Sears. While most brides lose money on their wedding day, Kim Kardashian made money. Her E! special Kim’s Fairytale Wedding: A Kardashian Event, which aired in two parts on October 9 and 10, drew 4.4 million and 4 million viewers respectively.
In fact, a recent report has the Kardashian clan on pace to surpass the billion dollar mark soon.
As much mainstream success as Kardashian enjoys, however, is she a good fit for Perry’s brand? It’s no secret that Perry has made a fortune off of catering to African-American women, especially in the Christian community. How will they react to him further legitimizing Kardashian? Surely, President Obama is not alone in his concerns about his daughters watching Keeping Up with the Kardashians. In spite of what they are today, the fact remains that Kim Kardashian set the family’s good fortune in motion with a sextape and that can’t possibly sit that well with Perry’s core church-going audience.
And don’t forget the controversy Essence endured when they featured Kardashian’s then boyfriend Reggie Bush on its February 2010 cover for its “Black Men, Love & Relationships” issue. While some are indeed fond of Kim Kardashian, they did take issue with a black man not in a relationship with a black woman being featured on the cover.
With Perry’s moves to include more non-black talent in his films — his February 2012 film Good Deeds, in which he stars, also features Eddie Cibrian, most recently of The Playboy Club — Kim Kardashian does make sense financially. Black women, however, can be fickle and there could indeed be some backlash, especially in a community where actions similar to Kardashian’s rarely generate praise. Even now, there’s considerable debate about the portrayal of African-American women in music videos.
To put it more bluntly, black women are not rewarded for over-sexualized behavior. Last year, there were questions if BET banned the racy Ciara video “Ride”. Many felt that if a male singer had created the video, there would have been no questions surrounding its airplay but, because Ciara herself generated the sexy video, there was a problem.
It is extremely doubtful that a black woman could take Kim Kardashian’s path and, literally, come out on top. When Montana Fishburne, daughter of Laurence Fishburne, attempted to follow Kim Kardashian’s blueprint, she was heavily criticized. Her poor decision generated some debate in mainstream circles about the example Kardashian had set for impressionable young girls.
Only time will tell if Perry’s move to cast Kim Kardashian is a win or fail on his part. There’s little doubt, however, that Tyler Perry is shaking up his formula. The real question however is: will his core, black female, church-going audience embrace the change?