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

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by Tambay A. Obenson
August 22, 2013 8:45 PM
18 Comments
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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:

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18 Comments

  • justathought11 | September 16, 2013 4:52 PMReply

    The filmmaking process has become more non-exclusive than ever. I dont think we will continue to see huge dips in the numbers moving forward.

  • Lawrence Lee Wallace | August 26, 2013 6:25 PMReply

    Great job guys! Thank you for doing this. Info we need to know. (what was happening in 1999?) :-/

  • Yep | October 2, 2013 11:51 AM

    y2k scare and prep.

  • Tahir | August 23, 2013 10:51 AMReply

    Not sure if this is in the works, but it would definitely be nice to see a delineation of studio/independent releases indicated on the graph.

  • Roberto | August 23, 2013 11:59 AM

    Yeah I was thinking the same thing

  • Monique a Williams | August 23, 2013 7:40 AMReply

    Very interesting.

  • GoldGw2 | August 23, 2013 3:17 AMReply

    can anyone tell me when exactly did the Obama Back Lash begin and I want to see if I can some how tie that into the low film productio of sellgw2.com

  • Laura | August 23, 2013 12:15 AMReply

    Yay AFFRM! Helping to shake things up and the beat don't stop. If you're taking requests Tambay for the next chart you should do box office. Annual total box office for each year. That should be interesting especially if one of those down years ends up having a higher box office total than the up years since most of the films last year you said were independent. My guess is that in the earlier years they were mostly studio films which means they were released more widely and probably made more. I'm a geek for this kind of stuff. Good work!

  • Monique | August 22, 2013 10:49 PMReply

    I know the numbers look like they're going up, but what's really sad is that there were like 600 movies last year and only 30 of them were films that told stories about black people. That's like what, 5%. Folks like to argue about how there should at least be the same percentage of black films as there are black people in this country. If that's the rule then we're about 10% shy of the mark. That means to say we're meeting the proper ratio then there should've be about 90 black films released last year. Imagine that though.

  • CC | August 22, 2013 11:51 PM

    Part of the issue is that there are very few if any African movies being released in the US whereas there are more Asian and European ones, which even further skews the numbers since those generally don't fall under this category. Since Tambay's definition wouldn't cover movies with multiracial casts like Fast and Furious series or 2 Guns, the situation while bad isn't quite as bad as your numbers would suggest.

    What is even more sad is counting how many black movies have female leads compared to male leads. Has there been a female led black movie this year or will Baggage Claim and Mother of George be first ones?

  • LeonRaymond | August 22, 2013 10:17 PMReply

    Very interesting - can anyone tell me when exactly did the Obama Back Lash begin and I want to see if I can some how tie that into the low film production and the high film production charting how they must get over it some how. Maybe I am way off base but I am just curious?

  • LR | August 22, 2013 10:15 PMReply

    I would've thought that the 1990s would be a lot higher. I grew up around that time and aren't those the years that people like Nelson George call the golden age of black cinema? Like after John Singleton released Boyz In Da Hood it seemed like the doors were wide open and there were a bunch of hood movies and that was also around the time the Spike, Eddie and the Hudlin brothers were the most active. But this is very interesting. It looks like a stock chart. If you bought in in 1990, and you sold last year, you'd have made money. And that's a good sign right?

  • Curtis | August 22, 2013 10:08 PMReply

    It's really weird that 2010 was so low, especially since it looked like we were starting to see a rise from about 1999. And then all of a sudden, boom, it falls hard. It'll be interesting to see if there was a reason for that drop. But cool. I'm going to bet that 2013 will be higher than 2012. No more drops LOL.

  • Nadia | August 22, 2013 11:29 PM

    Without a doubt 2013 and 2014 should be strong. 2013 isn't even over yet and there's a bunch of films coming in the fall. Best Man sequel, Mandela, Half Of A Yellow Sun, Black Nativity, 12 Years A Slave, Tyler Perry's got some Madea movie coming too. And don't forget all those indie films too like Things Never Said, Mother Of George, Blue Caprice, Savannah. That's already 10 right there.

  • mawon | August 22, 2013 10:04 PMReply

    That doesn't seem like much progress especially when you consider that Hollywood's releasing more and more films every year. I'd like to see this chart adjusted for *movie inflation.* Or a chart showing the proportion rather than the quantity. That would be more informative.

  • No | August 22, 2013 9:59 PMReply

    Not impressed...until I see the titles you're claiming to be so-called "black films." And by the fact that you're "teasing" this out may well indicate that your take on "black films" will be elastic to point of not being substantiated your assertion.

  • jon nisby | August 22, 2013 9:02 PMReply

    Nice lets see one-hundred!

  • Masha Dowell | August 22, 2013 8:52 PMReply

    I love this chart! So, in 2012 the most black films were released? Hmmm...

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