Black TV and film have conquered the domestic market (we’re looking at you, Empire!), so isn’t it time to expand our reach and make big bucks overseas? According to The Hollywood Reporter, foreign buyers are still a little hesitant about inking film deals with Black lead roles.
Let’s rewind to December 2014. Do you recall a certain email hack that revealed Sony execs’ reluctance to cast Denzel Washington in leading roles? A producer — who admitted that Washington is “the best actor of his generation” — suggested that he would decrease the global appeal of films because of his race.
“I believe that the international motion-picture audience is racist—in general, pictures with an African-American,” he wrote.
Despite the home successes of Selma, Chris Rock’s Top Five, Fox’s Empire, THR reports that Black-led TV and films are indeed, as the Sony producer noted, a tough sell in the international market.
“Any major international sales company attending Berlin’s EFM will admit foreign buyers have a harder time committing to a title with mainly black faces onscreen,” THR reports.
Lee Daniels, the mastermind behind The Butler and Empire, says that the push-back from foreign buyers leaves him stumped.
“I think people everywhere are fascinated with African-American culture,” he says. “Clearly, Beyonce is a hit. Clearly, Obama is a hit everywhere except in America with white people. African-American films should be making money overseas.”
The Butler, by the way, grossed $60 million outside of the United States.
With Empire’s shocking domestic success, Daniels is striving to pitch the hip-hop drama to the international market, but it’s not going to be easy.
“Empire’s success speaks for itself, but it will be a tough sell because we haven’t had a black TV show go global since The Cosby Show and that was the first,” one European television buyer said.
Sure the international film market might be a bit stubborn, but thanks to the successes of a few recent Black pictures, they’ve been willing budge — at least just a little bit, according to Cameron McCracken, executive producer of Selma. He says films like The Help, The Butler and 12 Years a Slave have helped.
But according to James Simien, creator of Dear White People, it only seems like the ol’ struggle, we-shall-overcome films do well globally. What about other aspects of African-American identity?
“Black movies seem to only come in a couple of forms: the historic, tragedy-tinged story of our history, our struggle, and the superfluous, light fluffy comedy,” he says. “Our people have a broad range of experiences and our cinema, our culture, should reflect that.
Every year, a couple of Black films are championed and suddenly Hollywood’s racial problems are over, Simien pointed out.”The problems are still there.”