Minorities At The Movies Fill Seats, But Not Screens New surveys show that black and Latino moviegoers buy more tickets than other demographics, even though both are underrepresented onscreen. Some say the problem is that Hollywood sees minority audiences as less diverse than they really are.
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Minorities At The Movies Fill Seats, But Not Screens

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Minorities At The Movies Fill Seats, But Not Screens

Minorities At The Movies Fill Seats, But Not Screens

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

Hollywood has a problem that could be costing it a lot of money. Recent studies show that blacks and Latinos go to the movies much more frequently than whites. But as NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates tells us, studios don't release many films to capitalize on those demographics.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES: There's this assumption in the film industry that black people want to go to this kind of movie exclusively...

(Soundbite of film)

Unidentified Woman #1 (Actor): (As character) Madea?

Mr. TYLER PERRY (Actor): (As Madea) What's going on?

Unidentified Woman #2 (Actor): (As character) Her man is beating her. Now, what should we do?

Mr. PERRY: (As Madea) Before or after his funeral?

BATES: That's movie-making machine Tyler Perry, whose Madea dramedies have been hugely profitable for Lionsgate. Perry himself portrays the no-nonsense, busty grandma complete with silver wig, purse and gun. He has a huge following among black movie-goers.

But Matthew Barnhill, senior vice president of market research at BET, says Medea isn't all they go to see. A recent BET study says blacks go to exactly the same kind of features as their white counterparts with one surprising difference.

Mr. MATTHEW BARNHILL (Senior Vice President of Market Research, BET): We go 21 percent more often than the general market, and we're 22 percent more likely to have multiple repeat dealings of a movie.

BATES: Simply put, blacks spend more money on movies, says Marlene Towns, a professor at the USC's Marshall School of Business.

Ms. MARLETE TOWNS (Professor, Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California): We consume what the mainstream consumes, as African-Americans, but we also consume things that are particular to us as a segment.

BATES: Towns says a good story will pull black viewers in regardless of the stars' ethnicity.

Ms. TOWNS: It's really about having something funny or something that's touching or people can relate to in terms of being a student or being a mom or being a bridesmaid.

BATES: "Bridesmaids" drew women in across color lines this spring, with its bawdy take on wedding stress and female friendships.

(Soundbite of film, "Bridesmaids")

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Woman #3 (Actor): (As character) I'm engaged.

Unidentified Woman #4 (Actor): (As character) Oh my God.

Unidentified Woman #3: (As character) He asked me last night.

Unidentified Woman #5 (Actor): (As character) What is happening?

Unidentified Woman #3: (As character) So will you be my maid of honor?

Unidentified Woman #6 (Actress): (As character) Of course I will.

BATES: Another profitable spring wedding movie that happened to have had a black cast and multiracial audiences was "Jumping the Broom."

(Soundbite of film, "Jumping the Broom")

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) If it wasn't for my mother, I wouldn't be the mean you want to marry.

Unidentified Woman #7 (Actor): (As character) If it wasn't for your mother, I wouldn't be questioning if you're the man I want to marry.

BATES: Executive producer Tracy Edmonds says she wanted a movie that showed what she knew existed from personal experience but never saw reflected on the screen.

Ms. TRACY EDMONDS (Executive Producer, "Jumping the Broom"): We rarely get a chance to see that there's an African-American upper class. We wanted to showcase the fact that there are two-parent households with African-Americans and also that there are African-American men who really do love their women.

BATES: And it's not just black audiences who get short shrift: Several recent studies also have shown that Latino audiences buy a lot of movie tickets. They might buy more if Hollywood could go beyond its one-size-fits-all approach to reaching various segments of the Latino market.

Ms. IVETTE RODRIGUEZ (President, American Entertainment Marketing): It's sort of like comparing somebody from Texas to somebody from New York. It's a different experience.

BATES: That's Ivette Rodriguez, president of American Entertainment Marketing. AEM specializes in marketing and promotion to the several Latino communities Hollywood often lumps into one. Rodriguez says Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans and Dominicans may all speak Spanish, but they're all different. Rodriguez believes the industry executives who green-light films often don't get that because they lead monochromatic lives. Most don't have meaningful peer interactions with any Latinos.

Ms. RODRIGUEZ: It's through their experience with their nannies or with the man who comes to mow the lawn. So they just think that's what Hispanics are.

BATES: 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.

Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.

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