Robert Townsend directed The Five Heartbeats, a 1991 musical drama film he co-wrote with Keenen Ivory Wayans. Townsend, Michael Wright, Leon Robinson, Harry J. Lennix, Tico Wells, Harold Nicholas, and Diahann Carroll star in the picture, which was produced and distributed by 20th Century Fox.
The story follows the rhythm and blues vocal quartet The Five Heartbeats over three decades. Through the eyes of one of the Heartbeats, Donald ‘Duck’ Matthews, the film recounts the rise and demise of a Motown-inspired soul act.
On March 29, 1991, the picture was released to most North American audiences; however, it was not released to viewers on other continents until 2002, when it was published on DVD. In 2006, the film’s 15th anniversary was commemorated with a new DVD. Critics have given the film mixed reviews.
Robert Townsend had achieved near-cult status among independent filmmakers after writing, producing, directing, and starring in his first film, Hollywood Shuffle—a project that caused him to max out all of his credit cards and spend nearly $100,000 of his own money raised through savings and various acting jobs to produce the film.
Virgin Records issued a soundtrack for the film, which featured original music by a variety of musicians. ‘Nights Like This’ and ‘A Heart Is a House for Love’ both charted in the top 20 on the Billboard Hot R&B Singles chart in the United States.
After being released in 862 cinemas across North America, the film grossed around $8.5 million. The bulk of critics was critical of the picture. In 2002, the film was released on DVD, and a special edition was produced in 2007 to commemorate the film’s 15th anniversary, which included new footage.
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