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Analysis of the notion that black films ‘don’t travel’




Boots Riley attends the Sundance Institute at Sundown Summer Benefit at the Ace Hotel on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California.
Boots Riley attends the Sundance Institute at Sundown Summer Benefit at the Ace Hotel on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California.
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Sundance Institute

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The release of “Sorry to Bother You” proved to be a domestic success, reeling in $14 million during its first month in theatres.

Yet, writer and director Boots Riley said the film was met with resistance from foreign distributors because of the belief that "black movies don't do well internationally." Riley’s sentiment reflects the notion that movies featuring black casts struggle at the international box office.

The trope has persisted despite global success of films such as “Black Panther,” “Get Out,” and “Moonlight,” among others. For decades, European and Asian distributors have overlooked Hollywood films with non-white casts based on the justification that international moviegoers are simply not interested.

So are distributors’ expectations making it more difficult for these movies to become an international hit? Or are they underperforming because of the genre itself?  We discuss how genre, region and the cast’s race might impact a film’s success overseas. 

Guests:

Scott Mendelson, contributor to Forbes, where he covers the film industry with an emphasis on domestic and foreign box office analysis; he tweets @ScottMendelson

Christy Lemire, film critic for KPCC, RogerEbert.com and co-host of the ‘What the Flick?’ podcast, available at ChristyLemire.com; she tweets @christylemire

Tim Cogshell, film critic for KPCC, Alt-Film Guide and CineGods.com; he tweets @CinemaInMind

Charles Solomon, film critic for KPCC, Animation Scoop and Animation Magazine