About That Popular 'Black Films Don't Sell Overseas' Industry Belief... Reality, Or Just Laziness?

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by Tambay A. Obenson
April 28, 2013 10:07 PM
43 Comments
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I tried posting this as a comment in Sergio's box office post, in response to the ongoing debate about black American films and international box office, but the comment module wouldn't let me do so. So I'm just publishing it as a post of its own, further fleshing out, and adding to what I was initially going to post as a comment.

Let's just kill this idea that black films don't play overseas, because it's just not true. 

There's an entire world out there folks; "overseas" or "foreign" doesn't mean "non-black." There are black people in countries around the world who crave images of black people on film, maybe even more-so than we do here in the USA. 

It may come as a surprise to some of you that, even though we lament the lack of representation of black people in film and TV here in the USA, it's far worse in other countries in which blacks are also in the minority. Just ask our friends in the UK, France, Germany, and other European nations. Even in Brazil.

And some of them look to the USA for the representation that's lacking where they are. Their numbers may not be considered high enough by some international distributors to be worth the effort - or, they're not even considered at all, even as an under-served niche, which I think is unfortunate, because there's an untapped worldwide audience out there that's being ignored. 

In France and England for example, the black population in each country is about 3%, compared to 14% here in the USA. But they are interested in black American cinema. And then of course, you have the entire continent of Africa. Granted not every country in Africa is in a position to partake in the business of film entertainment, with some countries in some state of unrest due to one conflict or another, to put it simply. But there are several countries within the continent that American cinema does travel to - including black American cinema. 

I've been tracking box office results of black American films since this site started in 2009, and two of the largest foreign markets for Black American cinema are South Africa and the UK. You'll also find markets in Nigeria, Ghana, Germany, Australia, and others. Black American films have screened in these countries in the last 4 years since I started tracking, and have done well enough in some cases. Maybe there wasn't much fanfare made around their overseas releases because they weren't blockbusters, but it might come as a surprise to some that a lot of them, if not most, were released internationally, with South Africa and the UK being two of the most popular territories. Likely because, in part, English is either the primary or, an official language that's spoken widely.

In fact, some films were released very wide overseas - and, by the way, I'm not even counting movies with superstars like Will Smith, Denzel Washington and Eddie Murphy. I'm not looking at films with any of those actors in them. What I've learned is that if a distribution company really wants to push a film overseas, they can and will do it. Damn whatever the popular belief is about that kind of film. They'll find a way if they believe in that film, and have the resources.

Last year alone, Think Like Man was released in about 15 international territories. It made $1.2 million in South Africa alone (not bad for a country that's about 15% the size of the USA in terms of population). To compare, films with much higher budgets, and much more recognizable stars, that did very well here in the USA, actually made LESS than Think Like A Man did in South Africa. For example, a critical and commercial hit, also released last year in Zero Dark Thirty only grossed $185,000 in South Africa! The Tom Cruise movie, Jack Reacher with Cruise as still one of the biggest international stars left, made $1.1 million in South Africa. 21 Jump Street the movie, made $650,000 in South Africa. And I could go on...

But the point is, Think Like A Man did far better, or just about the same in South Africa alone, when compared to a lot of mainstream (read: white) Hollywood movies, that cost a lot more than it did. 

It even fared better than Argo did in that country.

Think Like A Man made another $1.1 million in England (not bad for a country that's also about 15% the size of the USA, with a black population that's just over 3%). Zero Dark Thirty made over $5 million in that territory. And the others did even better, making around $15 million each in England. But that makes sense. Unlike South Africa where blacks, especially what we could call "upwardly mobile blacks" (you might have read about the recent rise of the black middle class in that country, although there's still a wealth gap between the races) make up about 70% of the country's population, it's the opposite in the UK, where white's are in the majority. With the majority of the country's population being black, I can only then assume that this statistic had something to do with the film's success in that country. It's also the only BRICS country in all of Africa - newly industrialized countries with large, fast-growing economies to start.

Even Sparkle was released overseas in about 8 countries. Most of Tyler Perry's movies have been released overseas. Also last year, Beasts Of The Southern Wild was released in quite a lot of countries overseas. Yes, obviously the critical acclaim certainly helped, as well as the international film festival exposure, and the way it was marketed. But, it still stands as a film that tells a story centered around black lead characters, so the idea that there isn't much interest in, or understanding of stories about black people, overseas, or that black stories are so damn esoteric, just doesn't fly. 

Also, Precious played very well overseas. Does any movie get any *blacker* than that? In fact, 25% of its total worldwide box office gross came from overseas. 

For Colored Girls was released overseas; Just Wright was released overseas. Notorious was released overseas; Even Jumping The Broom was released overseas, grossing almost $400,000 in South Africa, and another $160,000 in Trinidad & Tobago, and another $150,000 in Nigeria.

So yes, black American films are indeed traveling. And yes, they aren't all international blockbusters. BUT I'd say the same thing about countless mainstream (read: white) movies that didn't exactly set the international box office on fire, especially relative to budget, which is key. In fact, some did rather poorly overseas. 

I'd further say that American-made movies in general that weren't within the top 50 highest grossing films of any given year (in the USA, domestically), weren't sure-bets overseas. Meaning, if it was a blockbuster in the USA, it likely also was a blockbuster overseas. But how many movies each year are what we'd call blockbusters? That's why I said, if a film isn't in the top 50 domestic grossers, international box office success is far from guaranteed or constant.

So just like mainstream movies, some black films are doing better than others overseas. They haven't all been huge box office champs in other countries. But some did very well (especially relative to budget) in places that you would be surprised by, as far away as Taiwan, Bahrain, Russia, the UAE and others, for example. It really depends on how they're marketed and certainly, critical acclaim helps, which shouldn't be a surprise. 

If anything, one lesson I can share, and something that we've been encouraging here on S&A for a long time, is that it's even more important that black American filmmakers send their films to overseas film festivals. That early film festival play, especially if well-received, only helps the film if it's later released in that country. In fact, it could serve as your entry into that country - countries you might not think would be receptive to black cinema.

Keep in mind that there are black film festivals all over the world. Or mainstream festivals that include black cinema sections. For example, I recently received an invitation to attend a film festival in Krakow, Poland - the OFF Plus CAMERA International Festival of Independent Cinema. It's not a black film festival, but, this year, they had a black cinema sidebar, and I believe a related panel, because I know Ava DuVernay was also invited, and I think was on a panel; and she did attend the festival. But I couldn't. And if you think it's just some "no-name" festival, because it's not Cannes or Sundance, the fact that they are able to attract the likes of Luc Besson, Jane Campion, Roger Christian, Costa-Gavras, Richard Jenkins, Roland Joffé, Melissa Leo, Elvis Mitchell, and others, tells you a little something about how respected they are internationally, and what kind of pull they have.

But the point is that, some might never consider that there'd be an audience in Poland for black American cinema. Yet, there is - at least, there's definite interest.

And that's just one example.

So think globally, not just locally. And don't let anyone tell you otherwise. You'd be really limiting yourself. 

In summary, there are markets overseas for black American cinema, especially where black people reside. And, as I've said, several films have taken advantage of that already, and continue to do so. Just imagine - if there wasn't this self-fulfilling fear that still limits these films from playing even wider overseas, they would be reaching even more audiences, and making even more money than they already are. 

And I still don't buy the idea that these films can't cross over, because they most certainly do. Marketing and acclaim can help in that regard. A film that's well-made (writing, directing, acting, etc) is certainly a good start.

Eventually, someone will realize that there's a lot of money to be made in pockets here and there, if you do your homework and target the right countries. But it's a lazy industry. Nobody wants to be first. Meanwhile, I have friends, family and acquaintances in countries like Nigeria, Cameroon, parts of the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Russia, parts of Asia, the Caribbean and South America, who are buying American-made bootlegs of a lot of these black American films. 

Why?

Not because they're a cheap bunch of people, and don't want to spend the money to see these films in theaters. The problem is, these films aren't being officially released in those countries for these folks to pay to go see them in theaters in their individual countries.

There's a lot more to be said here; it's not so black & white an issue...

By the way, I used the universally-accepted Box Office Mojo as my source for the above data.

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43 Comments

  • Donella | August 5, 2013 12:48 PMReply

    The Weinstein Company is making an international effort with The Butler. It has release dates in Denmark, Portugal, France, Finland, Sweden, Greece.

    I believe the UK, Mexico, Spain, Germany, Brazil, and South Africa would offer opportunities for more revenue. But Weinstein's doing more than Lionsgate ever did for Daniels.

  • James Smith | August 5, 2013 9:44 AMReply

    I see the comment that blacks perhaps should step up their game and delve into other genres as if no black filmmakers want to, or have tried to explore other genres. The fact is, few projects that fall outside the sphere of what Hollywood producers feel is standard black fare (meaning urban dramas and comedy) aren't going to get the green light. If you have a high concept film, say you wanted to do something Avatarish, you'd be doing it on a budget of maybe 50 million, or less, and then wondering why your film was getting panned for CGI that didn't compare to films that cost 200 mil.

    People who say you should just go out and do it on your on, really have no concept of how the system is set up, and 20 years ago, that was completely impractical for the majority of people who weren't connected in some way to the system already, and nigh impossible if you wanted to do genre, or period films. Today it is much easier to make a film, even a good looking genre film and get it seen, but the distribution and theatrical ends are still pretty much closed doors to the majority of black filmmakers that don't have a studio working behind them.

    I mean what independent black filmmaker can afford to travel around the world with their film in the truck of the car like Oscar Micheaux in 2013?

  • Donella | August 5, 2013 11:41 AM

    The one Black movie this year that delved outside romance, comedy, and drama--After Earth--was sand-bagged with pre-release negativity and accused of being Scientology propaganda.

    It still managed to clean up well in UK, Russia, Mexico, Spain, Brazil, Japan, and China and has nearly doubled its production budget.

  • David | May 26, 2013 2:42 PMReply

    GREAT EFFIN PIECE!
    I had been wondering and researching this very thing for a while. I heard Reggie Hudland say this in a documentary back in 2003. He talked about how big Hollywood is used to marketing with a certain formula, so marketing black film, would take another formula that they (whoever that is, maybe WE) are too LAZY to try.

    Will Smith, although a, THEE biggest movie star, believes and says that his, and Tom Cruises and others, willingness to go overseas and promote the films themselves, lend to part of the success of them. Why couldn't that work for smaller films? Either way, I've always felt confident that there was a market overseas as well....good stuff!

  • sergio | May 26, 2013 2:50 PM

    That's Reggie HUDLIN

  • Phil | May 23, 2013 11:36 PMReply

    Think Like a Man's domestic take was $91.5 million and it's foreign take totaled $4.5 million. By comparison, American Reunion's domestic take was $50 million and it's foreign earnings were $177 million. See the difference?

    Look, I'm all in on the AA film bandwagon and I've donated to 3 or 4 crowd-funding campaigns during the last year; However, my cold blooded capitalist heart can't ignore the data. If I have a dollar to spare on a lottery ticket, I'm going to spend it on the game with the 100million dollar payout versus the one with the 100k payout (assuming both have equal odds of winning).

  • Phil | May 25, 2013 1:09 PM

    whoops, the previous comment (5/24/13 5:25 PM) was mine, not Lauren's.

  • Lauren | May 24, 2013 5:25 PM

    Lauren, are we talking about films starring Black actors or Black films? Django is a Quentin Tarantino flick (with a watered down storyline made to be digested by a white audience, I might add) and my capitalist heart would have bankrolled it. By the same token, Jaden Smith's Karate Kid did incredible numbers worldwide. Don't get me wrong, I'd consider a Love Jones or Billie Holliday too but I wouldn't expect foreign revenues to put my investment in the black (pun intended).

    So here's where you lose me, Lauren. Let us agree that an audience exists and the only thing missing is the marketing piece. Why ask mainstream Hollywood to tap into this market and realize the profits instead of making it happen ourselves? Surely, we're not that helpless...are we?

  • Lauren | May 24, 2013 12:07 AM

    Phil, I think you're missing the point. If MAJOR MARKETING is given to some of these black films, they truly have a chance. DJANGO UNCHAINED made $162,805,434 domestically, so far, and $260,000,000 overseas. How does your "cold blooded capitalist heart" like them apples? It's highly unlikely FRUITVALE will be a flop and we all know the reason for that...it's another Weinstein property. Now just imagine if some of these black films were afforded the same opportunity and support? It's something to think about.

  • Adam Scott Thompson | April 30, 2013 9:47 AMReply

    Certain genres travel better than others. "Transformers" plays everywhere because it's action, just a bunch of big-ass robots fighting -- and the dialogue is irrelevant (The original "Godzilla" movie [with Raymond Burr spliced in for a U.S. release] comes to mind). American comedies are a big risk because the humor is often pop culture-based and doesn't translate well to non-English speaking audiences. At day's end, the films that rely mostly on visuals -- action, thriller, horror, sci-fi and the superhero subgenre -- are the ones studio push abroad. Also, they only go balls-out on international marketing/promotion for big-budget, "tentpole" films. Smaller-budget, "boutique" films, not so much.

  • JTC | April 29, 2013 6:41 PMReply

    Sorry my response was so long.

  • JTC | April 29, 2013 6:40 PMReply

    Genre filmmaking seems to be a central issue for this topic. And I particularly feel where CAREYCAREY, NO BRAINER, and DARYL are coming from.

    Here is my point, I hope you can feel me on this. I watched "Pain and Gain" on Friday. It was a powerful film, although I admit I am not exactly sure that's a good thing, but Dwanye "The Rock" Johnson was a revelation, in my opinion. He should be to this decade what ARNOLD was to the 80's and 90's, if not to a higher level. So I called a friend who had just scene the movie and I asked her why actors like THE ROCK, ANTHONY MACKIE and IDRIS ELBA weren't getting significantly bigger films to lead outright. Of course, each of these men have been in major films, but I was thinking more along the lines of PREDATOR, THE MATRIX, THE TERMINATOR SERIES and the like.

    However, the more we talked I realized I was wrong. The problem wasn't that they were starring in major films, although I think that could more leading roles, of course.

    The problem is that it is a difficult thing to make 100 million to 200 million dollar movie that works as a major tentpole but still has enough of an artistic vision to resonate with something deeper inside of an international audience. It requires making a genre film but finding ways to surprise us to push genre beyond cliche, a very common pitfall of genre filmmaking.

    Of course, then we have to include the situation of the black film.

    We then need stars who have unique yet universal quality which will also an audience to identify with as the lead characters (this is an area where we are very strong)

    On top of that, we need the kinds of stories that can speak to the particular issues of black folk while speaking to the global issues of humanity at the same time (I'm not sure how we are developing in that department, but I am hopeful)

    Finally, we need directors who are prepared to captain a production team involving hundreds of people while at the same time maintaining the creative vision. While I found TIM STORY FANTASTIC FOUR to be somewhat enjoyable, it was not in anyway comparable to THE DARK KNIGHT. (I am not sure how we fare in this department either, so far)

    All this to say, black films can do well overseas, we need only to look at black music to see how our creativity can touch a cord in people of all nationalities. But in light of the fact that our creative efforts are going to be far more scrutinized by both the national and international film communities, we need to have a black director with some VERY STRONG projects to been given such a chance. And there is no need to say that JON FAVREAUX was able to do the IRON MANs with a powerful track record for the obvious reasons.

    I have happily started seeing more films from black filmmakers that I truly enjoy (Dee Rees' Pariah comes to mind), and certainly a cinematographer the likes of Bradford Young could give you the level of imagery, but I don't know if I have seen the kind of work which would suggest that there is a director out there who could bring the depth and nuance to a project like Octavia Bulter's Parable of the Sower, an obvious choice for a major film, in my opinion.

    I don't know.

  • jazzyj | April 29, 2013 4:25 PMReply

    We as blacks do not have our own market. 3% of the population in Europe is not going to give your movie $200million! Sadly Africa is pretty much a dead continent. Until Africa gets its crap together and creates wealth, the position of blacks will not change. There will be more black movies made when there is a black world wide audience.

  • Donella | August 5, 2013 11:36 AM

    Black movies of all genres tend to do well in the UK.

  • mawon | April 30, 2013 12:19 AM

    Ummm.... Nollywood...

  • JaZZYJ | April 29, 2013 11:26 PM

    @MAWON
    Africa is too poor to even matter when it comes to global business. If Africa would develop like Asia has, we would have a market to put our movies in.

  • mawon | April 29, 2013 7:26 PM

    A dead continent? What the fuck?

  • NO BRAINER | April 29, 2013 2:20 PMReply

    When you brought up Zero Dark Thirty and the Tom Cruise film with a title I cannot remember if you put a gun to my head, you lost me. Zero Dark Thirty? It made 95 million with a 40 million dollar budget. That's not doing very well in the USA. What are you talking about? It didn't make a profit, and that's that interests the majors in Hollywood. And of course Think Like A Man made more in South Africa than those films. They better have. Are you surprised? And as I said to someone (LEONRAYMOND I believe) on another post here, the studios should take advantage of countries in Africa, the West Indies/South America (Suriname, Trinidad, Guyana, and Brazil). But that's obvious.

    Hollywood just doesn't care for small returns. The belief that black films not selling is perpetuated in Hollywood by the fact that they don't bring in the BIG BUCKS. And making a million here and 400K there doesn't really fit into their financial goals. It's really as simple as that. Hollywood these days are relying on Foreign markets more than ever. They make up 70% of a film's worldwide gross. That's the big bucks they're after, not the small change.

    Also, how can you bring up Oscar nominated films like Beasts of the Southern Wild and Precious? Both were nominated for BEST PICTURE of the year. Of course people from all races all over the world would be curious about such films. Almost every film in Oscar history that was nominated for Best Picture saw a boost in box office gross. But you have to get the nomination FIRST, and that's the ask of any film. So, mentioning them doesn't support your claim.

    Actually, the term "doesn't SELL overseas" comes from the foreign distributors in countries like Germany, France and Japan refusal to BUY and DISTRIBUTE black films. They just don't think it's worth the risk, especially for a film with unproven talent. That mostly effects independently made black films that don't have a major distributor putting them out there with their own foreign distribution machine. And like I said, the majors are betting on the supposed sure winners, whatever that means to them.

    I agree. Black filmmakers need to think bigger, outside the box, which definitely includes thinking globally. And sometimes that just may mean thinking in this way at conception level of project development. But the truth is, black films are not selling in ways that would interest Hollywood and it has nothing to do with laziness.

  • getthesenets | April 29, 2013 2:05 PMReply

    Never read so many instances of people saying what others should be doing with THEIR money until I started following Black film sites.

    Read it during Red Tails, with a fe wfilm makers actually saying in interviews that "if George Lucas really wants to help Black film industry, he should take his money and fund blah blah blah"

    Now I'm reading instances of people who knock TP every chance they get telling him what he should do with HIS money. Wishing him to be the guinea pig, and knock down barriers for others to follow behind him.


    "I made this money, you didn't...right Ted?..we outta here!"

    OK, maybe Bobby Brown isn't the best person to quote...I'm sayin though.

  • Donella | April 29, 2013 1:14 PMReply

    The massive amount of bootlegging overseas tells me there is a market overseas. Action and horror translate well to virtually every culture. Crucial are stars willing to put time and energy into overseas press and publicity, meet and greets with fans and distributors.

  • CareyCarey | April 29, 2013 8:34 AMReply

    QUOTE - "This discussion has got to be better framed. There are several genres, regardless of race, that travel better than others. Action, science fiction, fantasy, movies with an internationally known cast. Most black films are not in those genres. Big surprise, they don't travel."

    Now hold that thought and work with me because I'm going somewhere. I mean, since this post is basically an extension of Sergio's post (2 below this one) it behooves me to tie the two together. In doing so, to do justice to my comment, I have to first listen to the wise words of Shug and Celie.

    Shug: I think it pisses God off when you walk by the color purple in a field and don't notice it. More than anything God love admiration.
    Celie: You saying God is vain?
    Shug: No, not vain, just wanting to share a good thing. I think it pisses God off when you walk by the colour purple in a field and don't notice it.
    Celie: You saying it just wanna be loved like it say in the bible?
    Shug: Yeah, Celie. Everything wanna be loved. Us sing and dance, and holla just wanting to be loved. Look at them trees. Notice how the trees do everything people do to get attention... except walk?
    [they laugh]
    Shug: Oh Miss Celie, I feels like singing!

    "CareyCarey, where are you going with this?"

    I am glad you asked. Tambay said "I tried posting this as a comment in Sergio's box office post, but [I couldn't]", and Sergio mentioned (championed) Tyler Perry in a comment in his post, so I'm sorta envisioning Mr. Perry as the color purple.

    So I had to find a way to juxtapose Sergio's post with Tambay's. Here I go. I have to bring Celie back on the scene because it's so ironic that although Tyler Perry is often viewed as the devil (in this neck of the woods) he is now being used as a beckon of positivity. So I can hear Tyler mimicking Celie's words to that other black man... "Until you do right by me, everything you even think about gonna fail!"

    Okay, now I've arrived. THAT DUDE said this post should have been framed a wee-bit-better, and I agree. In fact, I believe the premise of the argument is misleading or as some would say, it smells like the underlay for the overplay. Yep, instead of... "About That Popular 'Black Films Don't Sell Overseas' Industry Belief... Reality, Or Just Laziness?"... the title should simply read "Black Films Don't Sell, Right?... Except...?". I mean, seriously, this has little to do with overseas. Heck, after wading through Tambay's misleading statistics, I've come to believe this has everything to do with nothing other than black folks, because white folks -- are really -- not in this picture.

    So going with the theme of movies that "play overseas" (another way of saying movies that make good money) what movie genres have shown to be the twinkle in the eyes of the overwhelming majority of black folks? Yep, we all know that answer. Listen, shake it, fake it, rub it around, the emphasis/complaint/beef is on movies that fall outside the lines of silly rom-coms, comedies and Tyler Perry's movies. I mean, isn't that the basis of our major disagreement with those in power? You know, we want more black face, in more diverse roles.

    But then, the gatekeepers says, "if it does not make dollars, it does not make sense". So a frequent rebuttal is, if they'd distribute our films overseas, then they'd see there's a market for our films and then we'd all be happy.

    Well, the gatekeepers see what they see, and if they see what I see, overseas only plays to a select few. And, if you look there, you'll surely find it fair that those few that did travel, that journey was probably an after-thought. After the movie found it's legs here in American, then it traveled overseas. So it's safe to say that decision was not a bankable part of the business process (i.e. budget vs expected return).

    Lastly, the field becomes woefully muddled when Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Eddie Murphy and film festivals are brought to the floor.

  • Aaron | April 29, 2013 7:57 AMReply

    I don't believe the hype of black films not selling overseas. They always lie to us to prevent us from trying. They said we could never rise above then we started Black Metropolitan cities like in Tulsa, OK but of course they get jealous and angry then tear it apart then continue to tell our offspring we never accomplished anything. I'm sure all it takes is meeting the right people and getting your film to them. I haven't really heard of any black american films going to africa and being as successful there as they were here. I plan on hitting up Africa as the first stop internationally.

  • Aaron | April 29, 2013 7:58 AM

    Never mind, I need to stop skimming and read the whole article, I see there have been plenty going to Africa and doing good.

  • Daryl | April 29, 2013 1:26 AMReply

    Black film not doing well overseas is myth that hollywood continues to sucker people into believing. The only reason you haven't had the big 500- 800 million grossing wordwide movies from black folks is because black filmmaker don't make sci -fi, super hero and action movies that feature a majority black cast because these are the movies that do big time box offices. You might have a few drama and a comedies that becomes a worldwide box office success but for the most part it's the films that I mention that have been the big moneymakers. Also hollywood says black films don't do well overseas, yeah if you don't market the films and treat them like a stepchild you hate of course their not going to do well. The bottom line is this is not just about business it's about power and that is why you see black films, filmmakers, writers , and actors get marginalized to limit the competition and keep black filmmakers and actors in a safe control place depending and begging them for a shot they are not going to get. Just imagine if black films started doing 100 to 200 million worldwide, it would change the game. Black filmmakers and actors could finally get rid of that I need to crossover to have real sucecss mindstate, you would see a variety of black films and that's the thing the powers that be don't want to see happen because this would have a big impact socially and economically for black people because they would no longer have control of the stereotype black images that is presenting to the world. PE said it best Don't believe the hype.

  • Donella | August 5, 2013 11:35 AM

    Daryl, it's definitely a myth.

    Lionsgate made no effort. None whatsoever to buy distribution for Tyler Perry though Why Did I Get Married had Jill Scott and Janet Jackson (international stars) in the cast.

    Made no effort for Madea Goes to Jail though that movie grossed $90 million domestic box office and $28 million domestic DVD.

    The fact that Lionsgate made no effort to explore the possibility of even two to five territories in Mexico or the UK or Brazil or South Africa, yet bought 60 territories for Now You See Me should speak VOLUMES to Tyler Perry who practically carried Lionsgate to the status it enjoys now.

  • that dude | April 29, 2013 1:16 AMReply

    As the leading black film site, this discussion has got to be better framed. You listed a bunch of black films that were released internationally, but you don't discuss two key factors when it comes to challenging the theory that black films don't travel.

    1. Genre - there are several genres, regardless of race, that travel better than others. Action, science fiction, fantasy, movies with an internationally known cast. Most black films are not in those genres. Big surprise, they don't travel.

    And as a key point in the genre conversation, BLACK is NOT a genre. The audiences for GET RICH OR DIE TRYING, MEET THE BROWNS, AN OVERSIMPLICATION OF HER BEAUTY and AFTER EARTH are very different.

    2. Quality. I know this is a subjective term, but when a movie that flops in the U.S. like JUST WRIGHT doesn't perform overseas, maybe it's not the color of the leads that's the biggest problem. "Good" movies (i.e. well told, interesting, entertaining films) perform better than those that are not.

  • Donella | August 5, 2013 11:29 AM

    Coming to America, Boomerang, Big Momma's House, and Dreamgirls all performed well overseas.

  • NO BRAINER | April 29, 2013 2:50 PM

    @ LILNUT... THAT DUDE did say it's a subjective term, "quality"...

    @THAT DUDE... I forgot to mention genre in my comment above. Thank you for covering that.

    AKIMBO says, "Sergio stresses the importance of the foreign market & wonders why TP isn't aggressive about it."

    Exactly my point. How can TP be aggressive? Them some foreign lands there yonder. Even if he financed distribution himself, he will be confronted with enough red tape in each country then will be enough to make him into a red mummy. That's where the foreign distributors come and if I go off speculation alone, they probably don't think his films are good enough or they don't see an audience for them. So, unless Lionsgate truly develop a foreign distribution machine as 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros and Disney had cultivate over the years, they will always have to SELL to the foreign distributor of each individual region. BTW, AKIMBO, I agree with everything you said.

    I love reading S&A. I think it's interesting to hear the opinions of authors and commentators who tell you how to do things but never did it themselves. It's cute.

  • lauren | April 29, 2013 9:20 AM

    @That Dude... I agree and this post is yet another example of poking a fire when there's no wood.

  • Akimbo | April 29, 2013 6:49 AM

    Yeah, they're willfully overlooking the genre issue to say...something? Sergio stresses the importance of the foreign market & wonders why TP isn't aggressive about it, then Tambay swoops in to list a bunch of black films that were released abroad and cherry picks random "white" films with which to compare.
    It's great that Think Like A Man outperformed two political dramas and a comedy based on a TV show...in South Africa. Yes, it's even more impressive that it topped a Tom Cruise movie by $100,000. It's a great idea to push the release of black films internationally, particularly in markets with black audiences, but the reality is, the money's never going to be impressive, nor the reach very far unless black film makers step outside of the drama, romcom, and stereotypical comedy realms.
    It's not that "black movies don't sell internationally," it's that the genres typical to black cinema don't take off internationally, regardless of the ethnicity of the cast. Epic action, adventure, sci-fi, and fantasy movies do the best business worldwide. Why aim for a few hundred thousand from a few scattered countries when there's the possibility of millions (even hundreds of millions) worldwide? How about a black adventure flick with some heart? An action flick rooted in issues specific to the community, but with broadly universal themes? A fucking terrifying horror flick?
    Precious may not have taken the international market by storm, but neither did We Need to Talk About Kevin. Jumping the Broom may not have, but neither did Something Borrowed. If we want to get our stories seen by EVERYONE, we need to produce content that will put butts in seats. Easier said than done, I know.

  • lil nut | April 29, 2013 4:20 AM

    just curious, who or what determines what is "well told, interesting, entertaining films"? is that subjective, as you implied with your qoutes on "good" movies?

  • Africameleon | April 28, 2013 11:05 PMReply

    Thanks Tambay and Sergio for both of your posts. This post spoke to the issue I think ppl often overlook - that being the issue of "diaspora." There are black people "overseas" ~ as we've described it here ~ who look to black American film for entertainment and cinematic representation. So we should in turn "look to them" as well. My thoughts.... Tap into the black markets "overseas." Why not do a trade partnership with Nollywood, Afro-Brazilian, black UK, or other Afro-European films and the TP, Russ Pare, etc. films that we produce here? Therefore, exposing African Americans to film of the diaspora in a broad way, and vice versa. We don't know if they'll "translate" until we try. - Actually they do, b/c the film festivals, online hubs for diasporic film, and THIS BLOG prove this. - Popular directors like TP knew that there was a market for his films in the black community, and that those ppl would support his films. So lets take the same approach with diasporic distribution.

  • Donella | August 5, 2013 11:28 AM

    The UK and Mexico are extremely strong markets for Black comedy, drama, and romance because the cultural gap is not as high.

  • Valsadie | April 28, 2013 10:57 PMReply

    This is EXACTLY what I was trying to say last year -- well, I was trying to explain it to Tyler Perry, via Twitter, a waste of the message and method. I was so mad that Perry was just repeating what Lionsgate had told him instead of looking into it himself -- and that's not like him. He's been so clear-eyed about the business aspects of the movie business, I was surprised he was suckered that easily. All you had to do is check the overseas box office and the whole story is right there. Black movies do perfectly fine overseas -- even better! -- as long as there's a distribution system. Lionsgate doesn't have an overseas distribution system, so instead of setting one up, they told him that black movies don't do well overseas. You didn't look into the Will Smith and Eddie Murphy movies, but I did. The one that really took my breath away was how much Eddie Murphy's "Meet Dave" made overseas; making barely $12 million here in the US, it made almost $40 million outside of it, over three times as much!

  • Donella | August 5, 2013 11:26 AM

    I'm always vigilant on foreign distribution because North American entertainment media is quite lax on not reporting overseas sales. You learn a LOT when you look up your own statistics and learn what you're not being told.

  • NO BRAINER | April 29, 2013 2:31 PM

    VALSADIE says, "Black movies do perfectly fine overseas." But few are doing just okay. You and the author of this article are missing the POINT. If Hollywood is relying on Foreign Markets for 70% of a film's gross, to them, a $1 million gross in South Africa means nothing to them if a film like Think Like A Man made $91 million in the U.S. alone.

  • K | April 28, 2013 10:39 PMReply

    I am ashamed to admit I was one of those people who bought into the whole "black films don't sell well overseas" COMPLETELY forgetting that there are black people overseas! What is wrong with me? It's like you know better, but you forget. Hollywood swears that they know what America will like and cast accordingly with complete disregard that not all of America is white and/or male. So I don't know why I bought this lie. I'm sure there are people who want to see people who don't like them. How boring is it to see only yourself on film. I think there must be a desire to be exposed to different cultures, religions, skin colors, languages and film is the place where that can happen. It's our way to travel without actually traveling.

  • Donella | August 5, 2013 11:23 AM

    Black films of most genres including comedy, romance, and drama do and have done well in Mexico and the UK... (Coming to America, Boomerang, Big Momma's House, Ali, Dreamgirls) but only if the studios make the effort to rent those territories.

    Action films with Black male leads do well in Russia, Brazil, Japan, and China... (Bad Boys, The Book of Eli, After Earth) but again, only because the studio rents those territories.

    Most movies with a majority Black cast, the studios won't bother to make the attempt to market overseas even though domestic gross is high (Barbershop, Why Did I Get Married, Think Like a Man) and so that money left on the table goes to DVD or Blu-ray or on-demand.

  • NO BRAINER | April 29, 2013 2:26 PM

    It's not a damn lie. It's just a term being wrongly used. As people say such things, they need to be specific. The term was coined from foreign distributors refusal to buy black films in the past ten years, thus labeling black films as unsalable. Hollywood is fully aware of the market overseas but it's not enough or doesn't fit into their own financial goals.

  • No | April 28, 2013 10:32 PMReply

    What I find interesting re the counter-argument re "black films don't sell overseas" is that a number of films have been cited as making money overseas, but there doesn't seem to be any factoring in how much the production and distribution cost. The sums could represent a negative as to how much the film lost in its overall production. Further, Benson seems to be implying that black filmmakers are not trying hard enough. It would sure help if Benson were a black filmmaker showing people the way to do what he's castigating black filmmakers for not doing. If he is, then show black filmmakers the way. What method? What's a good case study? What did he do to make his film break into the international market? He doesn't usher any real facts, figures or cases. He just says X film made Z amount, but, as I said earlier, he doesn't factor in what the overall production and marketing costs were.

  • NO BRAINER | April 29, 2013 2:23 PM

    I agree with you NO. I even further elaborated with my comment above.

  • Filmchatter | April 28, 2013 10:21 PMReply

    In 1988, Eddie Murphy's Coming to America, a predominantly Black cast/theme movie grossed over $160 million overseas. This at a time when the communist block (Eastern Europe, Soviet Union and China) was still inaccessible to western films. If adequately promoted, good black movies can do well overseas and I am not talking only in the African Diaspora alone but everywhere. Hollywood however, like the other parts of the Establishment prefer the token Black presence.

  • Adam Scott Thompson | April 30, 2013 9:39 AM

    But Eddie Murphy was a global star, the biggest in Hollywood at his peak.

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