By Victor Ochieng
African-American actors have been sidelined in Hollywood over a myth that films with Black lead actors don’t rake in profits as much as all-white casts. The rhetoric has been that with black lead actors, the films perform dismally, especially abroad.
As a result, many script writers and executive producers opt for homogeneously white themes and storylines. And it’s for such reasons that this year’s Academy Awards saw a repeat of #OscarsSoWhite.
Film executive Spike Lee was categorical when excusing himself from this year’s Oscars. He said, “As I see it, the Academy Awards is not where the ‘real’ battle is. It’s in the executive office of the Hollywood studios and TV and cable networks. This is where the gatekeepers decide what gets made and what gets jettisoned to ‘turnaround’ or scrap heap. This is what’s important…The truth is we ain’t in those rooms and until minorities are, the Oscar nominees will remain lilly white.”
Lee’s point is valid since it seems Hollywood is scared of hiring people of color for executive roles.
A new study has revealed that choosing homogeneous themes and superheroes is a costly affair for the film industry, leading to loss of billions of dollars. The study was jointly conducted by McGill University and the University of North Carolina.
Researchers, Venkat Kuppuswamy, an assistant professor at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, and Peter Younkin, an assistant professor at McGill University, set out to establish how films with black casts perform at the box office in comparison to all-white cast films, the HuffPost reported.
“The standard story for why less than a third of films have an African-American in the top, you know, six roles is that perhaps audiences are not that receptive to minority actors,” Kuppuswamy said. “We wanted to see if that was truth.”
First, they gathered all Hollywood films released as from 2011 to 2015 that meet the threshold for the Oscars. The team then filtered out animations and foreign language films before categorizing the remaining ones based on budget, box office revenues, market performance, among other factors. They then sought the services of online coders on Amazon Mechanical Turk to establish which films had black actors among the top six cast members.
Ultimately, the study found out that films that feature African-American actors at the top perform much better at the box office than all-white cast films.
“We did not find a negative effect,” Kuppuswamy said. “In fact, to our somewhat surprise, we found a strong positive effect of having diversity in the cast.”