Film / TV

taraji p. henson’s ‘proud mary’ is being played down by studios because hollywood sees success for “black films” as accidental or surprising

January 16, 2018
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In 2016, more Black and Asain moviegoers went to movie theatres than any other demographic. In the last year alone, frequent Black movie-goers doubled in size, making Black folks 15 percent of frequent moviegoers, despite being just 11 percent of the population. The correlation between these increases in patronage and the content being produced demonstrates quite clearly that more on-screen and storytelling diversity motives more people to go to the movies.

Yet an still Tarji P. Henson’s 70s-inspired action flick, Proud Mary was seemingly buried by its studio, Screen Gems (a division of Sony Pictures) like it wasn’t worth the time of day.

Attention was drawn to the unusual rollout of the film, the type of film typically reserved for Liam Neeson types when Screen Gems decided not to host screenings for critics. Usually, a tell-tale sign of a studio’s low-confidence in the finished product, doing so affects a film’s Rotten Tomatoes score which is projected widely throughout the web and ticket sellers like Fandango. A suspicious move on its own, critics and commentators were even more puzzled when some reported that the studio had gone as far as to cancel some screenings this past Thursday:

Let’s be fair—maybe the movie sucks ass. Reviews have been mixed with much of the praise going to Henson and her cast, harsher criticism has been made about the story and editing of the film.

With so few mainstream large budget films led by black actors being released at all, it is startling that Screen Gems gave up on this movie before it was even released. Because it was a cinematic disgrace and completely unwatchable? According to reviews, not likely.

Hollywood’s unwillingness to support black artists is painfully transparent. Not only are studios reluctant to tell narratives that deviate from whiteness or narratives whites are comfortable with, they don’t believe that these stories have value.

“No one will go see an action movie if it’s led by a black woman, so why promote it?”

A low-stakes movie that’s being described as good-to-average isn’t a massive embarrassment to a studio worthy of hiding. So it begs the question of what exactly they’re casting to the side.

Taraji P. Henson, a superstar on a hit TV show with a massive range of experience and an academy award nomination, wasn’t worth a typical rollout. My guess is that’s because Screen Gems is just happy to take, what they perceive is the only few coins they’ll get for the film, which no expectation of it performing well or any interest from moviegoers to go see it.

The audience and demand for diverse movies are increasing, ready to be capitalized on and Hollywood, seemingly, still doesn’t believe that success for Black-led films is anything more than a fluke or novelty.