Don’t Tell Me “Black Doesn’t Sell”

Hollywood has often associated placing black talent at the forefront of major studio releases with an apparent risk of hampering the film’s box office performance, especially abroad. Recent commercial and critical successes of studio features have shown us that these fears are unfounded. There are no more excuses for the lack of racially diverse American productions.

The last two years have seen the release of highly profitable juggernauts starring black actors and actresses. In 2016, “Hidden Figures” earned an impressive $236 million globally, 72% of which was earned in America. The following year saw “Get Out” and “Girls Trip” earned $255 million and $140 million, respectively. At least two thirds of these bounties were delivered by American cinema-goers. And 2018’s global phenomenon “Black Panther” earned $700 million in America alone and a further $600 million worldwide. Worries over ticket sales in international markets have almost become irrelevant to turning over a profit. The success of “Crazy Rich Asians” is just the latest in a string of examples.

Some counterexamples exist, including this year’s “Rampage”. The film failed to recoup its production budget in America alone, and relied on China in particular to pick up the bill. The Chinese market spent $150 million watching the Dwayne Johnson and Naomie Harris-starring blockbuster, accounting for over 35% of its total revenue. But “Rampage” fared significantly worse than the above films in audience and critics’ reviews in America. Make a good movie and they will come.

And often it’s not about the money, sometimes a film wants to win an Oscar or two. The 2016 Academy Awards ceremony became the second year running in which none of the twenty acting nominations were awarded to actors of colour, sparking the #OscarsSoWhite backlash. Since then, the last two ceremonies have honoured 11 actors of colour with nominations, and two won in 2017. The reception received by “Moonlight”, “Hidden Figures”, and “Get Out” has left an enduring mark on Hollywood.

There seems to be a noticeable uptick in opportunities for acting talent and filmmakers to cash in on success. Tiffany Haddish, breakout star of “Girls Trip”, is currently starring in the popular film “Night School” alongside Kevin Hart. Jordan Peele will direct a new film, “Us”, starring Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke. And later this year, Steve McQueen will release his first film since “12 Years a Slave”, starring Viola Davis. The job of ensuring equal opportunity is far from over, but there is a gathering momentum in the success of racially diverse films, alongside significant change in the racial makeup of the decision makers. The future is colourful.


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