Head writer and director of the local rom-com Tell Me Sweet Something, Akin Omotoso, is disappointed about the removal of the film from various cinemas across the country by the official exhibitors, Sterkinekor. This, despite the film performing well.

READ MORE: “Tell Me Sweet Something” debuts big at box office

Omotoso wrote to the different stakeholders of the film, which was shared on comedian and investor, David Kau’s Instagram account. Omotoso explains how well the film has done, highlighting that it reached the R1 million mark in its first five days of release.

“Having made the economic case for films like TELL ME SWEET SOMETHING, we found ourselves reduced from 47 screens in our third week to 27 screens. Despite this drop in the number of screens TELL ME SWEET SOMETHING remained in the Top 10 at no. 10 and still performed better than some of the new titles,” Omotoso wrote.

We will not have economic success if the Exhibitor does not change its attitude to black films that are performing well

Omotoso also touched on how the film managed to break the stereotype of how poorly South African black films perform in the country. He even recounted his struggle to get funding for the film because a lot of potential funders believed that, “there wasn’t an audience for black South African films”.

Doug Place, Marketing Executive at Ster-Kinekor, shared different sentiments from those expressed by Omotoso. “To be honest, we are a little bit disappointed with some of the comments that we feel have been taken out of proportion,” Place said.

Starting with the things that the two parties agreed on, Place expressed that they are equally thrilled about the success of the film noting that it’s a big deal for a South African film to gross almost R2m in the box office. He says that it’s something they haven’t seen from a film of the same quality in the last two to three years.

“Ster-Kinekor is absolutely committed to making sure that we have a strong and vibrant local film industry; we can’t as a business rely solely on Hollywood products so having films like this is something that is absolutely core to our business strategy,” he said.

Place says that they have removed the film only from those cinemas where it hasn’t done well, and with the exhibitor receiving between 5-10 newly released films a week, he emphasised that removing non-performing films was one of the ways to make space for new releases.

This, Omotoso understood. But it was only after the film was removed from Gateway Mall in Durban and Sandton City in Johannesburg that he felt that the move didn’t make sense. Omotoso argued that the film had been performing amazingly well in those specific cinemas.

Place on the other hand disagrees, stating that Tell Me Sweet Something was removed from these two cinema houses because it had performed the worst of the films that were showing there. “The ticket sales of the second worst-performing film after Tell Me Sweet Something were double those of this local rom-com,” says Place.

The other challenge for local producers is that they have to contend with the high revenue generating international titles. So in light of this, we have to engage on a collective (producers and exhibitors) strategy that can enable the growth of the local industry at the Box office

“We have to make a business decision as to ‘will we have more audiences in a particular cinema house on a film like Tell Me Sweet Something in its fourth week or from the release of a new film – which may be a Hollywood film or local film – for example Necktie Youth [an SA film] opened on Friday and we’ve had to remove other films to make space for that,” Place said.

Place emphasised that the film hasn’t been removed from those cinemas where it’s performing well. He says that together with United International Pictures, they agreed to the changes in the distribution and screening policies of the film.

Place’s explanation, however, seems to be inconsistent with what Omotoso was told by Place’s colleague in an email. According to Omotoso, Clive Fisher, ‎Acquisitions and Scheduling Operations Manager at Ster-Kinekor, admitted that Tell Me Sweet Something was still performing well in Sandton, and then very nonchalantly brushed him off.

“I understand the film is still performing in Sandton, however with only 10 screens and the amount of titles releasing every week, we do not have space for the title anymore. I had another look to try and see if we could load a few shows for the film, but unfortunately there is no space. Sorry. Thanks,” Fisher wrote in his email.

This is what Omotoso is unhappy about, questioning what the point of making quality South African films is if this is how they are going to be treated even when they are performing well.

The question that immediately comes to mind is whether the promotion and support of South African films, especially of this calibre, shouldn’t be prioritised over business.

“As an industry, producers and exhibitors alike, we all share the same problem of trying to grow the industry and make local films a success. The other challenge for local producers is that they have to contend with the high revenue generating international titles. So in light of this, we have to engage on a collective (producers and exhibitors) strategy that can enable the growth of the local industry at the Box office,” said Naomi Mokhele, Communications Manager at the National Film and Video Foundation.

READ MORE: Akin Omotoso on “Tell Me Sweet Something” and the SA film industry

In conclusion to his appeal for support from South African audiences, Omotoso wrote:

“We need your help to get the exhibitors to re-think their decisions to remove the film from its well performing sites, and to not just treat this as another film, but to contribute to the advancement of South African film in general and to give Black films a fair chance in particular.

What we‘re appealing for is a change in attitude. We will not have economic success if the Exhibitor does not change its attitude to black films that are performing well, to understand that it’s the responsibility of us all Filmmakers and Exhibitors to transform the cinema landscape in this country.”

What are your thoughts on the matter?