Diverse representation in film and widespread audience appeal are not mutually exclusive — and with the recent box-office success of superhero blockbusters like Black Panther and Wonder Woman, theater owners are making more of a push for similar fare from studios.
In an interview with Variety, National Association of Theatre Owners chief John Fithian is quashing several of the longstanding myths surrounding the types of films that might draw a bigger audience — whether it's the time of year people tend to come out to see a movie or the more diverse stories being told.
Black Panther, for example, is still currently conquering the box office in spite of a February premiere, which definitely contradicts earlier convention about certain films only performing well in summer or winter months. "Black Panther proves if you’re good, people will come out and see you any time of the year. It also shows that a movie with an all-black cast and a black director can break records. It’s not the race or the sex of the actors in a movie, it’s the quality of the movie that matters," Fithian said.
In the past, there have been beliefs that films starring a female protagonist won't appeal as much to male audiences, or that movies featuring a cast consisting largely of people of color won't perform as crucially at an international box-office level. But Fithian pointed to both Black Panther and Wonder Woman specifically as examples that have bucked tradition in more ways than one. More importantly, he noted that these films need to serve as the evolving template for future diversity in superhero stories on the silver screen: "There should be a Latino superhero movie or an Asian superhero movie. The more you have different types of people in these movies, the more you appeal to different types of audiences."
However, superhero movies shouldn't necessarily be the subgenre dominating the box office; Fithian indicated that if there's one thing he'd like to see change, it's the rise of more "mid-budget movies" that bridge the gap between the huge blockbusters and the smaller, independent films.
Fithian's motivations are probably twofold, considering his position; films that perform well at the box office are important for theaters, given that they're the ones selling the tickets. But movies that are more diverse, from Get Out to Hidden Figures to Wonder Woman and Black Panther, have performed remarkably well over the past several years — and that's in large part based around who's buying the tickets.
A study conducted by the Creative Arts Agency last year confirmed that movies with a greater cast diversity performed much better than those lacking inclusion -- and people of color made up nearly half of ticket buyers attending screenings during opening weekends of those films.