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Will '12 Years A Slave' Be Hit Overseas? (Should There Even Be A Question About This?)

by Sergio
October 29, 2013 11:53 AM
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12 Years A Slave

Here’s your daily 12 Years A Slave piece for today.

To answer the question, I don’t see why not. And I have a theory why it will. But I’ll get to that in a minute.

In today’s New York Times, there’s an article on the “International Fate of 12 Years,” or in other words, will people in Iceland, Italy and Romania go see the film?

The article brings up the old canard, which Andre Seewood and S&A collectively have constantly disputed on this site, that black films don’t sell overseas, despite what the Times article says; that “the experiences of black Americans may be seen as too remote by audiences in countries that have little cultural connection to the subject matter.


Of course there was Django Unchained, which made over $425 million worldwide, over 60% of that from foreign countries. But the Times attributed that to the fact that, it was an action film, a genre for which there is always a huge worldwide audience, and because of the massive popularity worldwide of Quentin Tarantino’s movies.

However, to counter the idea that black films don’t sell, the article does also quote Stuart Ford, who is chief executive of IM Global, which is handling foreign sales rights to Lee Daniels’ The Butler, who says that “Despite the perceived wisdom that African-American films don’t travel, a great movie is a great movie, and great movies are at a premium right now.

And according to Ford, The Butler is performing “solidly” overseas, and will rake in as much as $50 million to add to its almost $115 million take so far here in the U.S.

And Victor Loewy, who was the former chief executive at Alliance Films, and who bought the British distribution rights for the film, said “It’s guaranteed 100 percent to perform in in the United Kingdom… and territories like Australia.

So what is this about black films not selling overseas?

And keep in mind that 12 Year’s very modest production budget of $20 million (less than what it cost to make The Butler) is guaranteed to ensure that the film will make a sizable profit when you compare what the film will make domestically and in foreign countries.

In addition, producer Stephanie Allain believes that there definitely is a market for black film overseas if the studios were just willing to market them as they do with other films: If studios are willing to spend the money to build awareness for black movie stars and directors, black American film culture will travel.

Her comments remind me of what Wesley Snipes said years ago, that he actually had believed that black movie stars had no following in foreign markets until his Blade films were released there, and he was overwhelmed by the massive response and popularity of the films, and realized that that he had a worldwide fan base.

But there’s another reason why I predict 12 Years will do well overseas, and that’s because foreign audiences love any film that makes America look bad. And, boy, does 12 Years do that.

Now of course I don’t need to tell you that Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Australia, Belgium, Brazil and many other countries have their own ugly and brutal history of slavery and oppression against black people and other people of color. But somehow, they still feel that they are morally superior to the depraved and hedonistic United States.

So they can watch 12 Years and think to themselves: “What a degenerate, sick bunch of people. Why, we would never do that here. We’re too cultured and civilized.

Yeah sure.

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More: Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave

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  • rob | February 16, 2014 10:25 AMReply

    12 years a slave - 2 1/2 hours of total boredom.
    As of Dec 31/13 this film has only made $37,951,371 and is 83 on the list for 2013 top grossing films...

  • Sergio | February 16, 2014 10:37 AM

    Hey dope get your facts straight. As of now the film has made nearly $48 million in the U.S. and has grossed over $108 million worldwide. a huge return on the film's $20 million budget

  • Donella | October 31, 2013 4:03 PMReply

    It will hit overseas... as soon as it gets there. Some territories will have to wait until 2014!

    Looking at this photo of Chiwetel, the gray hair, the worn down facial expression, and the increasing number of compromises he makes to stay alive in the film, I definitely get a sense of 12 hard years having gone slowly by.

  • Geneva Girl | October 31, 2013 8:02 AMReply

    I tried to see The Butler last Saturday night, but didn't buy tickets in advance. I figured that it had been playing for over a month and that Gravity would be sold out. The Butler sold out and we saw Gravity. I must add that The Butler was moved into the smallest theater in the multiplex, but it's been playing in Geneva well over a month.

    I don't know when or if 12 Years will play in Geneva. It may reach the German-speaking region, but not here.

  • Peggy | October 29, 2013 3:53 PMReply

    It will do fine. Hollywood is just looking for an excuse to not finance any black films that don't portray blacks negatively. Our films have to not only be artistically perfect but blockbusters in every country on earth to be considered ok. White films can fail in every country on earth including the US and their filmmakers will keep getting financing along with every award imaginable. (Argo)

  • Destiny | October 29, 2013 12:55 PMReply

    I think the fact that cast members of this film are from other countries might also help in worldwide sales.

    I could also see this film doing well in Brazil. As mentioned, marketing is key.

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