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Lifestyle & Trends: Halle's Box Office Slump

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

I'm Farai Chideya. And this is NEWS & NOTES.

Earlier, we talked about the reality TV star Dwayne "Dog" Chapman caught on tape by his son dropping the N-bomb. He wasn't exactly a traditional role model, but he did have plenty of fans, black and white, add it all to the news from Hollywood.

And who better to break it down than Allison Samuels. She's a correspondent for Newsweek? Hey.

Ms. ALISSON SAMUELS (Reporter, Newsweek): Hi. How you doing?

CHIDEYA: Well, you know, I watched "Dog the Bounty Hunter."

Ms. SAMUELS: Mm-hmm.

CHIDEYA: It's one of my guilty pleasures.

Ms. SAMUELS: Okay.

CHIDEYA: I know I'm not the only black person who does. Do you think he's going to lose black viewers over this?

Ms. SAMUELS: Are you sure you're not the only black person because I…

CHIDEYA: Oh.

Ms. SAMUELS: I don't know. I don't know a lot African-Americans who watch the show. I have to say to you. But the thing that I guess I hate about this (unintelligible) is that now when people do this, they get more attention. And now, I think he will get more viewers. And I think that's the sort of downside of this whole thing of let's shock people. And I'm not saying that he didn't mean what he said, I'm sure he did. But I sort of feel like the more media attention these things get, the more - I mean, look at Imus. He's coming back stronger than ever.

And so do I think this is going to hurt him? Maybe for three months, but he'll be back. And I'm sure the viewership will probably remain the same, which is unfortunate, but I don't see it changing. I think, if anything, it's going to get bigger.

CHIDEYA: Yeah. There was a, you know, 15 years ago, there was a real world and nothing else, and now you can't click your remote without getting all these reality shows.

Ms. SAMUELS: Yeah. That's right.

CHIDEYA: It sounds like you're saying they live and die on publicity - good, bad or ugly.

Ms. SAMUELS: I think so. And I also think we've now become desensitized to that type of thing - the rant, you know, the using - the N-word. I think that, you know, it happens so much particularly for the last couple of months, where, I mean, you look at Michael Richards - did Seinfeld's DVD came out right after that and it sold more than it did the last time - more than the last one that came out.

So clearly, it intrigues people. So they go out and they say who is this guy? You know? Because they've never - my mother has never heard of "Dog the Bounty Hunter." But now, she's like oh, I want to see him because I don't know he is. So it just opens this door for people to sort of go oh, he sounds interesting. Let me see what's going on.

So, yeah, I think it is a part of PR. I think it helps, you know? But I do think he meant it. When I listened to the tape, I don't think he was just saying it for publicity. But I think once it's released, it done hurt to sort of have that out there and to have people talking.

CHIDEYA: Let's take a quick tour of Halle Berry's career. Her film, "Things We Lost in the Fire" didn't do well at the box office.

Ms. SAMUELS: Right.

CHIDEYA: Now, she's getting ready to start a family. She is someone who broke around with her Oscar. How does her career and what's been going on echo in terms of what black actresses do and don't get in terms of roles, even if they've done well in the past?

Ms. SAMUELS: Well, it's funny because whenever you ask black actors like Gabrielle Union or whoever, how did, you know, Halle Berry winning an Oscar change your career, and they're, like, it didn't change Halle's career. And it really didn't. I think that's sort of the point that, you know it didn't increase the type of roles or the number of roles she got that were quality roles. I also don't know if she's making the best decisions.

And I also feel like - because her core fan base has always been African-American, the movie she's been making lately have not been traditionally African-American movies and I don't know if African-Americans are supportive of that. You know, all of the - the last movie was - her husband was David Duchovny from the "X-Files." I don't know if the African-American want to go see that kind of film. And I know she's trying to broaden her base, I just don't know what at what cost because that movie, "Things We Lost In The Fire" opened at 1.5 million the first week, which is really, really bad.

So and her last movie was the same way - the one with Bruce Willis. It opened with nothing. But again, these are mainstream movies with no African-American characters in them. And I just think for her core fan base, she loses their interest of that.

CHIDEYA: Moving on to another issue that is about how people position their careers, there's this new movie that we're going to talk about more - Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, "American Gangster."

Ms. SAMUELS: Mm-hmm.

CHIDEYA: I understand Russell Crowe wasn't the top choice for the role nor was Ridley Scott the first director onboard. Who was originally slated?

Ms. SAMUELS: Antoine Fuqua, who did "Training Day" with Denzel, was supposed to be the director, and he was the director initially. And I could not pronounce this guy. He's in "Things That We've Lost in the Fire," Bill - Del Torro…

CHIDEYA: Benicio del Torro.

Ms. SAMUELS: There you go. He was supposed to be the - Denzel's co-star. But my sources say the studio felt like two minorities would not be able to open a film and with an African-American director, the movie would focus much more on Frank Lucas. And as you've seen the movie - and if you see the movie today, you will realize that it's definitely not. It's very, very split-down in the middle between Frank Lucas and the police character.

And I think initially, what Denzel wanted and what Antoine wanted was to really focus and sort of give you a better understanding of who Frank Lucas was - all his complexities, all his drama. He was a brilliant man. Yes, a crook, but very brilliant. And I think that's what Denzel really wanted to get into.

But the studio, I think, was concerned about that, wanted a mainstream white character in it and there comes Russell Crowe. And Antoine - I feel bad for him because this was something, I think, that he really wanted to do and the studio just sort of nixed it.

CHIDEYA: Well, Allison, thank you so much.

Ms. SAMUELS: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: Allison Samuels is a correspondent for Newsweek magazine, and she joined me from our NPR West studios. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.