I’m Going To Have To Pass Too
In my fondest dreams I would run a movie studio. To be more specific I would run a profitable movie studio. In order to do that you can be sure I wouldn’t green light half of the movies that see the light of day including,
Cowboys and Aliens – I love aliens. I love cowboys. I even love Harrison Ford. But what a poorly crafted story, and I actually shudder at some of the lines and watched in disbelief that over $160 million was spent to bring this story to all six of you who went to see it.
The same goes for other box office blunders such as Mars Needs Moms– with a $175 million budget, this movie only grossed $38.9 million.
And, quite honestly, I would have taken a pass on Red Tails as well.
For those of you hiding under a rock for the last week or two, Red Tails is the George Lucas passion project about the Tuskegee Airmen – the group of Black pilots who fought in World War II. For those of you from another planet, George Lucas is the guy who brought us Star Wars.
I’m not debating the social value of a film like this, or the need for it. I am merely saying that if I were head of a studio accountable to stakeholders for fiscal responsibility and profit generation, then I would have to say no to Red Tails.
Unfortunately, that is what George Lucas also heard from studio execs over the last 23 years – that’s how long it’s taken for the project to finally hit the big screen. In an interview about the difficulty of getting the project funded and then distributed Lucas said, ”I showed it to all of them and they said nooooo. We don’t know how to market a move like this.”
A movie like this refers to a movie with an all-black cast in which the ‘hero’ is not white.
There Is No Such Thing As a Black Film…or a White Film
The only kind of movie Hollywood is interested in making are ‘green’ films, Lucas continued on The Daily Show last week. By “green” Lucas indicated that if Hollywood studio execs could not see how a movie could be profitable then they are not interested in funding it or distributing it.
Makes sense to me. Sounds pretty logical.
The issue with making a film like Red Tails is in the numbers. In order to simply break even (factoring in an average ticket price of about $8) then 11.6 million people need to go see this film– who wants to just break even? Breaking even and generating a profit are very different things.
Some might see that 11.6 million ticket sales an easy lift, after all 72% of Americans see at least one movie each year; assume Red Tails is that movie, and that is potentially 222 million movie ticket sales. However, according to “The Role of Actors’ Race in White Audiences’ Selective Exposure to Movies,” published recently in the Journal of Communication, “the audiences for “Larry Crowne” and Tyler Perry’s “Madea’s Big Happy Family” may not overlap.”
Think about it, when is the last time you saw white people bum rush the line to see a Madea movie?
The study takes a look at whether or not white audiences see films in which the cast or the story is a black story. While the study isn’t conclusive, and has no point of reference when it comes to Black action films (Red Tails is the first such film), it offers some insight into the issues potentially facing Red Tails.
It’s not a question of whether only black people will be lined up to see Red Tails. It’s a question of whether enough people will see this film, given the proclivity of
white people not to see black films.
What If I Asked You…
If I asked you to invest your life savings into funding an all-black movie budgeted at $93 million that doesn’t feature Will Smith or Samuel L. Jackson, would you? (Will Smith and Sam Jackson sell extremely well in the foreign markets — many films perform poorly domestically, but the execs don’t worry because they know it will do well abroad).
Now if that movie cost $25 million to make, and only relied on 3.1 million people going to see it in order to break even might you be more interested? Consider this: while The Help features very strong, black talent, the movie also includes other draws, and is based on a best seller. Sounds like a better spend and maybe you’d choose to invest here — I would.
Now, would you mortgage your house and maybe sell a kidney to invest in an eighth installment of Harry Potter or another Fast & the Furious flick? I’m sure you would. You know what you’re getting into and there is sure to be a return on your investment.
The point is that movie making is a big business. Key word being business. Green lighting a film relies on much more than a gut instinct or whether or not the story tickles your fancy or is uplifting to one segment of the population.
Deciding whether to green light a film involves a lot of analysis and market research. Unfortunately, as of now, the equation does not produce a result that is favorable to big budget action films that have all-black cast members.
I’m glad George Lucas has it like that and can afford to make a $93 million passion project. It’s even better that 20th Century Fox stepped up to the plate, when no one else would, to promote and distribute a film that chronicles not only an important part of black history but of American history as well.
If it were my money, though, or I was responsible for the wise investment of other people’s money, and was not guaranteed a return on investment, it wouldn’t be happening on Elesha’s lot.
The Real Decision Makers
Now that you’ve called me a sell out or a hater I challenge you to pass up that ‘theatre quality’ DVD rip being pushed by the guy at the beauty shop or your cousin’s friend Boo-Boo, who has the hook up.
Go out and actually spend a dollar and prove me and Hollywood wrong. Only by doing that can Black people show the studio decision makers that Black stories with Black heroes are worth the investment.
Hollywood studio execs are going to make decisions based on foreseeable ROI. As a friend of mine routinely says, ‘if it doesn’t make dollars, it doesn’t make sense.’
There is no excuse for watching bootleg versions. In 2010 the African-Americans Revealed study reported that black buying power was at about $913 billion with a projected increase to $1.2 trillion by 2013.
We have the power to become the real decision makers; and that is why I, as a movie fanatic, will be first in line next weekend at the theatre to buy my ticket to Red Tails. That way, when I pitch my epic film about Black super heroes, someone might actually give a damn– actually all I really care about is whether or not they give me some money to fund it.
Didn’t get enough? Check out my review of the Help.