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"Black" Films Face Obstacles Abroad; Are Foreign Film Markets Still Racist?

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by Anthony Kaufman
April 24, 2013 9:43 AM
2 Comments
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"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.

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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.

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2 Comments

  • amazing_grace | April 25, 2013 1:21 PMReply

    Oh, please. How many American independent films, of any color, appeal to foreign audiences? Or to American audiences, for that matter?

    The reduced critical standards applied to indie films domestically, and non-cinematic considerations which drive indie film box-office, aren't going to be extended beyond Park City and a few theaters on either coast.

    As for foreign indifference to African-America celebrities -- how well do films with Nigerian or Taiwanese stars do in the U.S.?

    And we're supposed to consider this indifference as racist?

  • Nayan Padrai | April 24, 2013 2:44 PMReply

    This is very true. I wrote a script a couple of years ago featuring primarily an all African American cast. The script was well liked by most people who read it, and then I discovered the wall of the foreign markets against a pic with an all African American cast. Denzel and Will Smith are the only true exceptions to the rule.

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