Hollywood marketing departments are finding it very hard to persuade international audiences to watch films with black stars. It’s like we’ve become the new deep south. [source]
Two Oscars but no Will Smith… Dreamgirls
These are difficult times in which to define your relationship with America. On the one hand, America is very bad: bombs, wars, all that sort of stuff. On the other hand, slightly embarrassingly, it’s much less racist than the rest of the world. In terms of watching films with black stars, for instance, the rest of the world is less liberal than, say, the deep south.
Indeed, according to a report in the New York Times, Hollywood marketing departments are finding it very hard to persuade any non-Americans to watch films with black stars. They’re even referring to “international” audiences – ie everyone who isn’t in America – as “the new south”. Reginald Hudlin, director of House Party and The Ladies Man, tells the NYT: “In the old days, they told you black films don’t travel down south. Now they say it’s not going to travel overseas.”
It’s especially awkward when you find the latest black movie to be rejected – Dreamgirls, staring Beyonce and Eddie Murphy – picked up two Oscars with a further six nominations from those reactionary Christian conservative rednecks. For most Hollywood movies, international sales make up roughly 52% of the total cash earned, according to figures from Kagan Research. For Dreamgirls, however, we international moviegoers contributed less than half our usual total – just 22% of ticket sales.
And that’s actually pretty generous. Are We There Yet with Ice Cube did 16%, Hustle and Flow did 6% and the two Barbershop movies did almost nothing at all. The only black stars who can overcome this prejudice – and what else can it be? Can anyone seriously claim that Dreamgirls is worse than American Pie III? – are Will Smith and Denzel Washington, although Martin Lawrence is clawing his way up.
To be fair, we Brits can afford to feel a little less redneck than our continental cousins. When Screen International broke down European admissions, the UK made up 78% of the continent’s audience for Barbershop and 98% for Brown Sugar. Put a big star like Will Smith in the picture and it’s slightly more balanced – for Enemy of the State, the UK accounted for only 37% of the European audience, still trouncing France (13%) and Spain (10%).
“It’s also worth pointing out that it’s almost impossible for anyone but the most die-hard filmgoer to name any non-white actors from any European country,” adds Screen’s editor Michael Gubbins. “Although that may be because the British audience has a greater affinity for US black culture at every level.” And yet, before we get too smug, this paper pointed out last weekend in The Guide that there are more black British actors on US primetime screens than there are on British telly. When it comes to anti-Americanism and race, we might have a bit of a splinter-versus-beam situation on our hands here.