The success of both Marvel's Black Panther and DC's Wonder Woman has led theater owners to demand more diversity in studio movies. Despite decades of popular films featuring people of color and women in lead roles - from indies to tentpoles - Hollywood continues to be hesitant when it comes to greenlighting more of these projects. Even worse, those same marginalized groups rarely make up the crew and creatives of movies. Thankfully, that's starting to (slowly) change, and box office receipts and theater owners are proving how misguided the traditional approach has been.
Wonder Woman beat all the odds last year when when it ended its run with $821.8 million across the world. What's more, for months after its release it continued to attract new viewers and upend assumptions. Similarly, Black Panther has been shattering records left and right. Black Panther set a new record this weekend and has pulled in $704M globally in just 10 days. Along with the critical acclaim of both movies, theater owners are now demanding more of the diversity that audiences clearly crave.
Variety spoke with Nation Association of Theatre Owners head John Fithian following the success of Black Panther to discuss his lobbying efforts and his years of advocating for more diversity in the movie industry. And for Fithian, the writing on the walls is simple:
"Theater owners have been asking for more diversity in movies for a long time, and by diversity we mean diversity in casting and diversity in times of the year when movies are released."
What Fithian says make sense, as theater owners can more clearly gauge the end result of diverse movies in terms of box office success. Meanwhile, studios seem increasingly mired in politics and in-fighting when it comes to making a push that clearly earns money. From Blade to The Hunger Games, genre and superhero movies with women and people of color in the lead do amazing numbers at the box office. The Fast and the Furious franchise has likewise proven how a diverse cast and filmmakers of color can create a global juggernaut. Plus, more diverse voices lead to more interesting stories, as Fithian noted:
“We want these movies to set a precedent and not be one-offs that people forget about. We’d like to see this more and more and more. There should be a Latino superhero movie or an Asian superhero movie. The more you have different types of people in these movies, the more you appeal to different types of audiences.”
Far from diversity being about hitting certain quotas, Black Panther and Wonder Woman have shown how such movies can lead to a cultural phenomenon. People don't just enjoy these films, but want to immerse themselves in them. Meanwhile, their impact helps them to gain free press and take a role beyond mere entertainment. For theater owners, that's a good thing in an age where fewer people are going to the movies.
In the end, Black Panther's success could see a sea change in Hollywood and elsewhere. The film has already inspired Disney to help build a STEM center in Oakland, turning the message of the movie into real-world activism. Next year will likely see even bigger numbers when Warner Bros. and DC release Wonder Woman 2, and it's a safe bet that Black Panther 2 will also perform incredibly well whenever it arrives.
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