Talking About Movies…And Race?

Fran pitched yesterday’s story about Sadie Winfrey, the Wilmington woman who was upset about the lack of showtime for movies with black producers (specifically: “Good Hair,” Chris Rock; “Precious,” Oprah Winfrey). This story did not get approval because she was bring up a question about racism…it got approval because of the questions it generated during our morning meeting: “How do our movie theaters select what’s shown?” “Why do some films (even ones that bomb…) get 4 screens while others are never shown?”

Admittedly, we couldn’t answer either of those questions, which is why I spent yesterday trying to find out.

The general manager at Mayfair Cinema explained that both “Precious” and “Good Hair” are limited release films. They are first shown in the big cities.  If they meet a certain revenue expectation (he did not say how much), they are released nation-wide.

I asked him how film distributors (Disney, Paramount, Warner Bros., etc.) decide which films get limited release? He said he didn’t know (in his defense…these decisions are handled by corporate movie theater booking agents and are conversations he is probably NOT privy to).

If you look at the demographics of movie-goers…you might be able to hypothesize why. According to Medialifemagazine.com, 70% of the people who go to the movies are adults between 18-49 years old. The median age is 32. Females make up 54% of the audience.

A research article published in the Journal of Media Psychology titled “Favorite Films and Films Genres As A Function of Race, Age, and Gender” concludes that “Whites show a rather overwhelming partiality for White-congurent movies. Indeed, only seven movies (3%) were cited which dealt with interracial themes.” They also say that “relatively few Black films are released (approximately 10% of all films after 1970), the race congruence preferences of Blacks is exceptionally strong, in fact dramatically disproportionate to that for Whites.”

In so many words…the majority of people who go to see films are adult, educated women…and of those seated in the theater…they prefer to see movies with actors and a production team that are of the same race. ( Film Preferences.)

Film distributors are like any private enterprise…they seek profits. If these are the statistics they follow, it may be reasonable to hypothesize that they will try to produce…and promote…movies that are going to be agreeable to the majority of their demographic. Perhaps they feel that a film about african american hair…will not be a big hit with the masses…its one guess for the limited release decision.

The GM at Mayfair says that corporate booking agents are looking for films with big names. That could be the reason why romatic comedies with popular stars are highly promoted (again…even if they bomb), whereas films with new faces (i.e. Precious) are more to prove.

Sadie seemed most upset that there was a group of people in a corporate office somewhere deciding what her community got to see.

I asked the GM at Mayfair how a community could voice their interest in a particular film if they wanted it shown locally. He didn’t have a definitive answer but he did say that some movies are now being released along with a website where you can vote to have it shown in your hometown (i.e. Paranormal Activity). Well…that’s news to me?!

Last night, Fran received a rather acidic email from a man pontificating that he felt that the story accused and “convicted” him of being racist. That is FAR from the point of the story and, quite frankly, if we can’t occasionally open up dialogue about how people in our community feel about these questions…we aren’t going to get very far.

Whether you agree with the film gods who decided to hold back on this film …or whether you think the decision is racially motivated or not…that is your opinion…and should be respected. The bigger picture here is HOW media is delivered to you…who decides…why do they make those decisions…and how does that affect our social dynamic?

If you DO want to see “Precious” you can catch it at the Cucalorous film festival this week. I asked the GM at Mayfair if both “Hair” and “Precious” would ever make it to our theaters…he didn’t know.

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