What films like ‘Hidden Figures’ and ‘Moonlight’ can teach studio executives
Updated: August 18, 2017
Will studio execs finally get it?
After a lackluster 2017 blockbuster season, films made by or starring people of color have come in top of the pile. Jordan Peele won a Best Original Screenplay Academy Award in 2018 for “Get Out,” while “Girls Trip” emerged as a standout. (Peele’s award was the first time a black writer had taken home that particular golden statue.)
“Girls Trip” features Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, Regina Hall and Tiffany Haddish as four long-time friends on a roadtrip to the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans, which celebrates African-American culture. The movie has made over $100 million at the American box office, making it what studio Universal Pictures calls by far the highest grossing live action comedy of 2017.
“It was the rare R rated comedy this summer that actually connected with audiences and exceeded box office expectations,” says Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at comScore. “Girls Trip” was a standout for having a great marketing campaign, a solid ensemble cast and also for delivering a fun and satisfying moviegoing experience.” He adds that almost 80% of viewers who saw the Malcolm D. Lee movie on opening weekend were female, again showing how women drive movie ticket sales.
“Girls Trip” is not alone. African-American-dominant movies rocked last year’s Golden Globes, with “Moonlight,” with Janelle Monáe, Naomi Harris and Trevante Rhodes, taking home the award for best drama. Meanwhile, “Hidden Figures,” the tale of three black female mathematicians at NASA, beat out the latest “Star Wars” installment to become top dog at the North American box office in early January 2017. (Hidden Figures is released by Twentieth Century Fox, whose parent company shares common ownership with Moneyish publisher Dow Jones.)
This is no accident: Movies with a lot of minorities in them generally attract more moviegoers, according to UCLA’s 2016 Hollywood Diversity Report, which studied 200 major motion pictures released in 2014. The eight films released that year with a 41% to 50% minority cast had a median global box office gross of $122.2 million; on the other hand, the 55 films with minority representation of below 10% had returns of just $52.6 million.
One reason: Films with diverse casts attract diverse audiences who might not otherwise have watched the film. “These [films] show that behind black and brown and yellow, there’s green,” as in cash, says Jason George, chair of the Screen Actor’s Guild Diversity Advisory committee, who appears regularly on “Grey’s Anatomy” as Dr. Ben Warren.
Though minority-filled films are often box office gold, studio execs aren’t casting many minorities or producing many movies targeted at them. Minorities made up just 12.9% of the main roles cast in 2014, down from the previous year’s 16.7%, according to the latest data available.
#GodIs I have been told my entire career "Black women can't open films domestically or internationally". Well anything is possible. Most importantly this proves that PEOPLE LIKE GOOD MATERIAL. HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH GENDER OR RACE. Agreed?! Thank you to everyone who supported this weekend even during the snow storm (which btw affected some of our biggest demographics). AND WE WERE IN FEWER THEATERS!!! What a proud moment!!! #HiddenFigures🚀 💋💋💋 P.S. telling me what I can't do only makes me focus on proving nay Sayers WRONG!!! 😘
But maybe audience numbers will convince them. Fully 37% of “Hidden Figures” audience was African-American, the Hollywood Reporter said; by contrast, MPAA data show that African-Americans purchased 13% of all tickets sold in 2013. And almost 60% of those who watched Denzel Washington’s “Fences,” which addresses racial tensions in the 1950s, were ethnic minorities, according to comScore data. The film has grossed over $40 million domestically, on a budget of $25 million.
This article was originally published on MarketWatch.
This story was updated on August 18 2017 with news of “Girls Trip” box office gross.
This story was updated on 4 March 2018 with news of Jordan Peele’s Academy Award success.
© 2018 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved