"Black films don't travel." It's one of the oldest clichés in the movie business. And it may be true today as much as it was 20 years ago when producer Andrew Vajna famously declared, "There are no black actors today [who] mean anything to the foreign marketplace." In my latest column for Filmmaker Magazine (available in print only), "The Invisible Filmmakers"--a title borrowed from Ralph Ellison's landmark novel "The Invisible Man"--I examined the plight of African American filmmakers and producers working in today's world, and how they still can't find adequate international sales.
While there is some debate among buyers and sales agents whether these projects are discriminated against not because of race, but simply because they might not have recognizable stars or commercial enough stories, some of the anecdotes they offer are downright shocking.
"It's fucked up," producer Jay Van Hoy told me.
While there's no official iron curtain, anecdotal evidence suggests that Russia and Eastern Europe are indifferent to American films with characters of color. And what about Asia? "Forget it," says Van Hoy.
Nekisa Cooper, producer of Dee Rees' "Pariah," told me they tried to get their second film off the ground with Focus, but it was put into turnaround after six months of development. "The foreign numbers didn't compute," she says. And then when trying to get the film made privately, the only foreign sales "value" being attached to the project lied with the black female protagonist's white male partner. "So we're probably going to have to pay the white male more to agree to play second to an African American lead," admits Cooper.
It's sobering stuff. Be sure to read the whole article in the latest Filmmaker Magazine.