Lee Daniels' historical drama "The Butler" starring Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey topped the box office with a $25 million opening last weekend, and faith marketing to black Americans played a huge role in its success.
The movie, based on the true story of Eugene Allen, a black butler who served eight American presidents in the White House, benefitted from a strong show of support from black Americans who purchased 39 percent of the tickets for its debut, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
"While the biggest numbers came from the larger markets, proportionately the mid- and smaller-sized towns over-indexed, which can be attributable to some extent to the outreach that we did to the faith-based groups," Erik Lomis, president of distribution for The Weinstein Company (TWC), told The Hollywood Reporter.
Some of the major markets where "The Butler" did better than expected in predominantly black theaters were Washington, D.C., Northern Virginia, Atlanta and Chicago.
"In all things related to my life, both personal and professional, I pray that God's will be done. I believe this prayer has led me to a string of roles that have touched people the world over through inspirational stories that share a common theme: to educate the world about where we come from as African-Americans," wrote actor Cuba Gooding, Jr., who plays the character of Carter Wilson in the guide.
"In this way God has brought me to this story, which will further inform the world as to how we as a country can come to have a black President," he added.
"At the heart of Lee Daniels' The Butler is a father/son story reminiscent of the Bible's 'Prodigal Son' story. The butler's son leaves home to chart his own course in reaction to the path his father has chosen," explains actor David Oyelowo, who plays the role of Louis Gaines in the movie. "Though the two don't see eye-to-eye over many decades, a love that transcends their ideals draws them back together in a way that only sacrificial love can."
Of her character Gloria Gaines, billionaire media mogul Oprah Winfrey wrote: "Gloria is every woman. She represents every mother, wife, sister, friend and daughter who grew up when women were the silent backbone for everything and everybody. Women who sacrificed their dreams and desires for the greater good of family and children."
The faith-themed trailer for the movie features Leona Lewis' inspirational song "I Know Who I Am" and ends with a line from Forest Whitaker's character saying: "God was looking out for us, I guess."
The studio also worked with Bishop T.D. Jakes in spreading the word about the film.
Linda Watkins, a church clerk at the Greater First Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., said the support the film has received from her congregation is personal. She told the Hollywood Reporter that she knew Eugene Allen, the butler whose life the movie is based on. He was an usher at her church who died in 2010 at the age of 80.
"[Church members] are excited that Mr. Allen is being represented, because it is his story," said Watkins.
"They know that some things are different, but are very happy to have had him as a member of the Greater First Baptist Church family. This is why they're going out as a group, as a church family, to see this movie."