New study finds diverse audiences drive blockbusters

In this Feb. 15, 2018, file photo, Emanuel Lawton, left, and his family dressed in Wakanda-inspired attire arrive to see Black Panther in Silver Spring, Md. (AP)
Updated 28 February 2018
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New study finds diverse audiences drive blockbusters

NEW YORK: Just as “Black Panther” is setting records at the box office, a new study finds that diverse audiences are driving most of the biggest blockbusters and many of the most-watched hits on television.
UCLA’s Bunche Center released its fifth annual study on diversity in the entertainment industry Tuesday, unveiling an analysis of the top 200 theatrical film releases of 2016 and 1,251 broadcast, cable and digital platform TV shows from the 2015-2016 season. Among its results: minorities accounted for the majority of ticket buyers for five of the top 10 films at the global box office, and half of ticket buyers for two more of the top 10.
Researchers found that minorities remain underrepresented in film leads (13.9 percent), film directors (12.6 percent), film writers (8.1 percent), broadcast scripted leads (18.7 percent), cable scripted leads (20.2 percent) and digital series leads (12.9 percent).
Many of those totals do represent some modest gains, especially when viewed across five years. (Minority leads on broadcast TV shows increased from 5.1 percent to 15.7 over the last five years, according to UCLA’s studies.) But other areas — especially behind the camera — have seen only slight or no improvement.
“There has been some progress, undeniably. Things are not what they were five years ago,” said Darnell Hunt, co-author of the report and director of the center, which focuses on African American studies, at the University of California, Los Angeles. “People are actually talking about diversity today as a bottom-line imperative as opposed to just the right thing to do. We’ve amassed enough evidence now that diversity does, in fact, sell.”
Minorities make up nearly 40 percent of the US population, but Hispanic and African-American moviegoers over-index among moviegoers. According to the Motion Picture Association of America, Latinos make up 18 percent of the US population but account for 23 percent of frequent moviegoers. Though African Americans are 12 percent of the population, they make up 15 percent of frequent moviegoers.
UCLA found that films with casts that were 21 to 30 percent minority regularly performed better at the box office than films with the most racially and ethnically homogenous casts.
Hunt believes that the wealth of data, as well as box-office successes like “Black Panther,” has made obvious the financial benefits of films that better reflect the racial makeup of the American population.
“I think the industry has finally gotten the memo, at least on the screen in most cases, if not behind the camera,” said Hunt. “That’s where there are the most missed opportunities.”
The report, titled “Five Years of Progress and Missed Opportunities,” covers a period of some historic high points for Hollywood, including the release of the best picture-winning “Moonlight,” along with fellow Oscar nominees “Hidden Figures” and “Fences.”
But researchers found the overall statistical portrait of the industry, while slightly improving on many counts, still trails far behind the entertainment audience.
“With each milestone achievement, we chip away at some of the myths about what’s possible and what’s not,” said Hunt. “Every time a film like this does really well, every time we see a TV show like ‘Empire,’ it makes it harder for them to make the argument that you can’t have a viable film with a lead of color. Or you can’t have a universally appealing show with a predominantly minority cast. It’s just not true anymore because the mainstream, itself, is diverse.”
Some of the largest disparities for minorities detailed by the UCLA report were in roles like film writers (8.1 percent of 2016’s top films), creators of broadcast scripted shows (7.1 percent) and creators of cable scripted shows (7.3 percent). Hunt blamed the lag behind the camera on, among other factors, executive ranks that are still overwhelmingly white and male.
“It’s a white-male controlled industry and it hasn’t yet figured out how to incorporate other decision-makers of color and women into the process. So you have these momentary exceptions to the rule,” said Hunt, pointing to “Black Panther,” which has grossed $700 million worldwide in two weeks of release.
Such films, he said, show the considerable economic sense of making movies and television series that don’t ignore nearly half of their potential audience.
“It’s business 101,” Hunt said.


Cirque du Soleil in Saudi Arabia: The perfect tribute to a rich culture

Updated 25 September 2018
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Cirque du Soleil in Saudi Arabia: The perfect tribute to a rich culture

  • Cirque du Soleil created a spectacular show in Riyadh
  • They paid tribute to Saudi culture and heritage

RIYADH: The circus — a place that is almost synonymous with joy and delight. Since time immemorial, circuses have been places of celebration and glee, and few as much as the premier name in the industry: Cirque du Soleil.

The show has had a devoted fan in me since 2006, when I attended a performance of their production “Quidam” and my definition of the word “circus” was turned upside-down. Their unique approach to art, performance, costumes and music has secured their status as a household name and a benchmark for all other circus shows to be measured against.

On Sunday night, Saudi Arabia’s National Day, the circus brought their incredible acrobatics to Riyadh’s King Fahad Stadium and it turned out to be a night to remember.



Prior to the event, Cirque’s Vice President of Creation Daniel Fortin offered little in the way of spoilers but hinted that we would see something the likes of which we never had before. With the promises of exclusive new acts, music, costumes and stage tricks piquing my excitement, I joined a throng of green-and white-clad spectators flooding the stadium. Performing to a sold-out crowd, the show kicked off at exactly 8.30 p.m. and the magic truly began.

Barely five minutes into the show, something stole over me as I settled into the rhythm of the music, something I saw flickering over the faces of those in the crowd around me: Recognition. We were seeing ourselves, our identity, echoed back at us, but with a twist. We saw ourselves through someone else’s eyes — someone respectful and admiring.



As a Saudi youth today, it has become an unfortunately common occurrence to face negativity from various outsiders, born of ignorance or fear. It has become dreary and repetitive to have to continually defend my people and my culture from those who have no wish to understand us.

But at this show? I saw my country once more through the eyes of an outsider, but this time, it was different. I saw my culture and my heritage lauded, celebrated, delicately fused with that tangible Cirque du Soleil flair. The attention to detail was careful, almost loving, but also daring and outlandish. It was a glorious fusion of classic Saudi aesthetics with the ethereal, bizarre beauty of Cirque du Soleil.


The symbolism was not always obvious, sometimes it was subtle, constrained to the beat of a drum or hidden in a snatch of song. Other times, it was blatant and bold, in the sloping hump of an elegantly clumsy camel costume, or the billowing of the Bedouin Big Top in the gentle breeze. And yet, unmistakeably, I felt the Saudi influences in every note of the performance. It felt like an homage, and yet it did nothing to diminish its own identity. It remained unquestionably a Cirque du Soleil performance, only below the usual circus frippery, there was a ribbon of something else that lay coiled beneath the surface. Something bright, vibrant green. Saudi green.

The spectacle rounded off with an astonishing display of fireworks, so plentiful that for a moment, the sky glowed bright as day. To me, each one felt like a promise fulfilled. A dream achieved. A miracle witnessed. Here, on my own home soil, it was the perfect tribute to a rich and vivid culture.