An Italian distributor for “12 Years a Slave” recently caused an uproar when a promotional poster for the critically acclaimed film prominently displayed actors
In a Hollywood driven by the bottom line, major studios often seek to produce movies with the largest potential for global profitability. That means making flicks that appeal to the broadest possible demographic around the world. That not only limits the type of movies made and the stories told, it also excludes talented actors who aren't deemed profitable.
"As foreign box-office sales have become more important, the people who manage international distribution have become more influential, weighing in on 'green-light' decisions about which films are made," the Economist explained in a 2011 article about the internationalization of film. "The studios are careful to seed films with actors, locations and, occasionally, languages that are well known in target countries."
Since African American actors aren’t as popular abroad, they are often brushed to the side in foreign marketing. The “international marketplace is still fairly racist,” James Ulmer of Ulmer Scale, which ranks actors' star power, told the New York Times in 2007.
It's not that all Hollywood films starring African American actors are flops abroad. Just look at the resounding success of "Sister Act" starring
For major movie studios and distributors, the bottom line will always have to come first in order to remain profitable and stay afloat in a perennially competitive industry. But films are more than products. "Movies are not really the same as Coca-Cola," Sharon Waxman argued in a 1998 Washington Post article. "They reflect ideas and values and offer powerful images of U.S. society."
As Waxman suggests, filmmaking should be about more than making money. Cinema has the power to change lives -- and the world. Last year was a watershed one for black cinema, with a diverse crop such as
[Updated at 2:20 p.m., January 7: A former version of this post referred to Chiwetel Ejiofor as African American. He's British.]