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Where Is Black Film Today? This Chart Showing Annual Number Of Black Films Released May Help

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act August 22, 2013 at 8:45PM

A second tease. I know, you hate teases. Just bear with me. Your patience will be rewarded!
18
2012 Year

A second tease. I know, you hate teases. Just bear with me. Your patience will be rewarded!

To recap what I said yesterday, announcing this monumental project (especially for those who missed it)... you can always skip ahead if you've read my below intro already, to the end of the bolded indent that follows.

Vanessa and myself have been working diligently on creating a sortable database of all the "black films" that have been released theatrically between 1990 and 2012. 

Why only go back to 1990? Other than the fact that it's a lot of work to compile all the data, 1990 seemed like a good starting point - one that gives us a snapshot of where contemporary "black cinema" stands.

Also worth noting - the available annual release information on films (online anyway, which is what we used for our research) starts to get a little murky pre-1990, especially where non-studio "black films" are concerned. So 1990 and on, felt safe.

How are we defining "black films"? Simple: films that tell stories primarily about characters of African descent. A black person's story has to be the film's centerpiece. So, for example, we didn't include any interracial buddy cop movies like 48 Hours, or the Rush Hour franchise of films. 

While I won't guarantee that we counted every single "black film" during the 1990 to 2012 years, I'm very confident that our margin of error is very low.

As you can imagine, it was quite a tedious endeavor for both Vanessa and myself, but very well worth it, because we plan to manipulate the data in a variety of ways, and see what we can learn about how far "black cinema" has come in the last 23 years. The database includes almost every major item you'd want to know about any film. Sure, that information can be found on a variety of websites online, but nothing like what we have, all in one location, sortable, chartable, etc.

We tend to talk in generalities about where "black cinema" is, but it's so much more empowering and invigorating when one is actually able to look at hard data. Nothing beats facts!

So for the next few weeks, we'll be working to clean up the data, and start to really play with it to see what we learn, and we'll of course be sharing all of our findings right here on S&A. The eventual goal is to make this database accessible, once it's where we need it to be.

Yesterday, I teased with a chart that shows the studios with the most "black film" releases between 1990 and 2012. The top 20 studios to be exact (see that HERE if you haven't). Today, I thought I'd tease you with a second example of what's to come. Specifically, this time around, the chart below shows exactly how many "black films" as defined above, have been released theatrically each year, every year, from 1990 to 2012. BUT before you scroll down to it, read what follows first!

As you can see, despite the occasional dips between the beginning and end years, there's clearly an overall up trend when it comes to the number of "black films" that have been released theatrically over the last nearly 2-dozen years. The last 2 years especially - 2011 and 2012 - are standouts, especially when you consider how low the figure was in 2010.

And while the chart doesn't show this, I can tell you (since I have the data) that what accounts for the spike in the last 2 years is the rise in the number of independent and foreign films that have been released theatrically in the USA, thanks to relatively new initiatives like AMC Independent, as well as the emergence of relatively new distribution companies like AFFRMCodeBlackVariance FilmsOscilloscope Laboratories, and Indomina Media, who, collectively, accounted for 7 of the 30 films released theatrically in 2012 - or about 24% of them.

Also worth noting, of the 30 films released theatrically in 2012, a hefty portion of them - 20 to be exact - were independently-financed films - as in, no studio backing on the production side. They may have eventually been picked up for distribution by a studio, or a studio subsidiary (in most cases after they debuted on the film festival circuit), but financing for production was raised outside the studio system.

Looking at the chart, it almost seems like every year or two (or three) that there's a spike in the number of films, there's at least one *down* year that follows, before we see another spike again. Might that be the case in 2013, since we've seen spikes in 2011 and 2012?

All worth further investigating...

But there's a lot more to come that'll fill in holes, as well as identify trends, patterns, dominant themes, etc, in "black cinema" over the last 23 years, whether covering the entire period, or specific years within, for comparison. And as we continue to unveil more of what we find, the more we'll learn about how far "black cinema" has come, and where we are today.

Of course, from here on, we'll add to the database as more films are released theatrically, including 2013 and forward.

Without further ado, here's the second sample tease - a chart showing the number of black films released theatrically, every year, from 1990 to 2012: Click on the image for a larger view:

This article is related to: Things That Make You Go Hmm..., Lists


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