When “Straight Outta Compton” opened in August of 2015 to over $60 million — about $20 million more than most trades predicted — a conversation sparked about the industry’s failure to properly track movies that target people of color.
“You can’t track black,” Jeff Clanagan, CEO of CodeBlack Entertainment said in a 2015 Variety report.
Almost two years later, it seems not much has changed.
“All Eyez on Me,” a biopic of Tupac Shakur from Lionsgate and Summit, is expected to earn just over $27 million in its opening weekend. That’s above most estimates, which had it in the $17 million to $22 million range earlier in the week, but below the $30 million it was projected to score as recently as Saturday. “All Eyez on Me” won’t break any box office records, but for a movie with a $45 million budget, that’s a solid opening. What’s more noteworthy, though, is just how “unpredictable” it has been.
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The same can be said for Jordan Peele’s socially conscious horror thriller “Get Out,” starring Daniel Kaluuya. The breakout hit from early 2017 has now made over $250 million worldwide. There’s also “Hidden Figures,” which, in addition to its three Oscar nominations, earned over $230 million globally. And it’s not just films with black leads — in April of this year, “How to Be a Latin Lover” starring Mexican actor Eugenio Derbez pulled a “surprise upset” over “The Circle” led by the A-list duo of Tom Hanks and Emma Watson. These examples and others have all played out since “Straight Outta Compton” made its $200 million run.
“All Eyez on Me” didn’t get much help from critics — its aggregate score on Rotten Tomatoes stands at only 24%. It was also known as a troubled production. A Vulture report detailed how it was first conceived in 1997, and landed in theaters two decades later having weathered multi-million dollar lawsuits and writer and director changes. While it did receive support from some key celebrities, others like Jada Pinkett Smith and John Singleton were outspoken in their criticism of the film and its portrayal of Shakur. Upon finishing the shoot, producer L.T. Hutton posted a message on Instagram that summed up the journey in all caps: “HARD WORK PASSION, DETERMINATION AND PERSISTENCE !!! GOT IT DONE !!! POINT BLANK !!!!”
And fans showed up. Advance ticket sales were one positive indication that the movie would perform well. And the release date, pegged to what would have been Shakur’s 46th birthday, helped it post especially large numbers on Friday, and in Thursday previews when it topped weekend winner “Cars 3.”
A number of recent studies have found that African Americans make up a disproportionate number of theatergoers, and diverse films perform better at the global box office than those with less diverse casts. A recent report from UCLA titled “2016 Hollywood Diversity Report: Business as Usual?” found that Hollywood’s failure to present more diverse casts is potentially costing the industry billions of dollars.
Still, the industry is continually “surprised” when a diverse film performs better than expected. Be it a lack of resources invested into finding better ways to track these movies, the changing ways that information spreads about movies in the social media era, or any other number of factors, it is in everyone’s best interest to catch up. The industry still may not be able to “track black,” but when will it start trying?