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How an Adam Sandler movie may have briefly tanked the United Negro College Fund’s donations

This wild Reddit theory suggests ‘Mr. Deeds’ may have helped reduce donations to the minority education organization by 23% in one year.

How an Adam Sandler movie may have briefly tanked the United Negro College Fund’s donations
[Photos: Flickr user Glyn Lowe PhotoWorks; Pixabay/Pexels]

What: A wild theory about the mostly forgotten Sandman flick, Mr. Deeds.

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Who: Reddit user (and accountant) Michaelob Ultra.

Why we care: The film Mr. Deeds is mostly remembered today, if at all, for coming out right at the flashpoint of costar Winona Ryder’s shoplifting scandal. (A scandal that seems rather quaint and heavily gendered through the lens of 2019.) Nonetheless, the 2002 Frank Capra remake was part of Adam Sandler’s long, theatrical hot streak and managed to gross $126 million in the United States, even if it didn’t burrow its way into the canon of beloved modern comedies.

A new theory, however, suggests that the film may have had another financial impact that has gone unnoticed until now.

The plot of Mr. Deeds is as follows: Unassuming, aspirational Hallmark card-writer Longfellow Deeds inherits a massive fortune from his newly deceased, distant billionaire relative. Don’t you dare worry about whether shenanigans ensue, I assure you they do. In an early third-act twist, though, Deeds is disillusioned with the life of a billionaire and decides to donate his $40 billion fortune to the United Negro College Fund. Presumably, Sandler and company selected this minority education organization as the fictional recipient because its title had a certain frisson suited to a quasi-racist 2002 throwaway punchline.

An accountant who goes by Michaelob Ultra on Reddit, though, has recently taken a close look at what that punchline may have actually cost the fund.

“Studies show that people are less likely to donate when they don’t think an organization needs the money,” he writes. “The fictional $40 billion received by the UNCF could have put in some peoples [sic] minds that the UNCF doesn’t need the funds.”

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Starting with the premise that some of the fairly large audience for the Sandler flick may have internalized the idea of UNCF’s suddenly fat pockets, the accountant looks at the organization’s Form 990 tax filings from the year the film came out through the dawn of the financial crash in 2008. Here are his findings:

  • 2002 – $168,474,806

  • 2003 – $129,818,384

  • 2004 – $153,865,177

  • 2005 – $169,408,629

  • 2006 – $160,879,366

  • 2007 – $162,008,049

  • 2008 – $146,213,246

Up until the crash, every year shows a fairly usual amount of variance—except for 2003, the year after Mr. Deeds was released. That year saw a 23% decrease in donations, a statistical anomaly.

Sure, the reason the United Negro College Fund took a 23% hit in 2003 may have something to do with the U.S. going to war with Iraq that year, or any other number of factors. It is not beyond the pale, though, to suggest that some kids may not have been able to go to college in the mid-aughts because of a movie where Steve Buscemi plays a character named Crazy Eyes.

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