This year’s Oscar race features a record-tying three nominations for black actors — Will Smith, Denzel Washington and Halle Berry.
That stellar showing mirrors the consistent commercial clout of pics with black directors, writers and stars, the measure of which is explored in the Black Film Report from monthly magazine Black Talent News.
The report surveys 182 pics released from 1990 to 2001 and divides them into four categories: “black films” (titles whose casts, themes, writers, directors and target audiences are black); black star-driven films (e.g., “The Nutty Professor”); buddy pics with a black lead (“Rush Hour”); and major studio releases with one or more black lead (“Remember the Titans”).
Indies released 67 of the 182 pics, and New Line led the list of larger companies with 23. MGM and DreamWorks brought up the rear with four and one, respectively.
On a total B.O. basis, 2000 was by far the peak year, with “Nutty Professor II,” “Big Momma’s House” and “Shaft” helping to boost total receipts to $609.1 million. The leanest year was 1990, which had just nine releases and $84.7 million in grosses.
Report author Tanya Kersey-Henley says the data point to an artificially imposed limit on the potential of black pics.
“Black films are pigeonholed and so narrowly marketed to black audiences,” she says. “When you go to a movie, you don’t say you’re going to a white movie. But with the way things are marketed, you are inclined to think you’re going to a black movie. We represent 12% of the population, but a much lower number of movies.”