According to a recent study, Hollywood has a little problem that could be costing it a lot of money.
Call it the Tyler Perry paradox. The director's Madea movies, melodramatic comedies featuring Perry in drag as the no-nonsense, busty grandma complete with silver wig, purse and gun, have been hugely profitable for Lionsgate Films. He has a huge following among black moviegoers.
So what's the issue? There seems to be an assumption that this is the only type of movie that black people want to see. Matthew Barnhill, senior director of marketing at BET, says that's not true. A recent BET study says blacks go to exactly the same kind of features as their white counterparts, with one surprising difference, according to Barnhill:
"We see movies 21 percent more often than the general market, and we're 22 percent more likely to have multiple repeat dealings of a movie."
A Fuller Reflection of Black Life
"Simply put, blacks spend more money on movies," says Marlene Towns, a professor at the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business. "We consume what the mainstream consumes, as African-Americans, but we also consume things that are particular to us as a segment."
Towns says a good story will pull in black viewers regardless of the stars' ethnicity. Bridesmaids attracted women across color lines this spring, with its bawdy take on wedding stress and female friendships. Another profitable spring wedding movie that featured a black cast — and drew multiracial audiences — was Jumping the Broom.
That film's executive producer, Tracey Edmonds, says she wanted to make a movie that showed what she knew existed from personal experience but never saw reflected on the screen.
"You know we rarely get to see there's an African-American upper class," she says. "We wanted to showcase that there are two-parent families, and we wanted to show that there are African-American men who really, really do love their women."
Losing Latinos With One-Size-Fits-All
It's not just black audiences who get short shrift on theater screens. Several recent studies also have shown that Latino audiences buy a lot of movie tickets. They might buy even more if Hollywood could go beyond its one-size-fits-all approach to reaching various segments of the Latino market.
"It's sort of like comparing somebody from Texas to somebody from New York," says Ivette Rodriguez, president of American Entertainment Marketing.
AEM specializes in marketing and promotion to the several Latino communities that Hollywood often lumps into one. Rodriguez says Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans and Dominicans may all speak Spanish, but they're different.
Industry executives might understand these differences better, says Rodriguez, if they had more meaningful peer interactions with Latinos.
Blacks and Latinos do buy more movie tickets than their white counterparts, but studio execs are going to have to better school themselves on how to reach these important, lucrative audiences. If Hollywood manages to do that, it might profit from those ethnic audiences that are going to be discriminating about how they spend their movie money.