Don’t Call Us Niche

A few years back, Cate Blanchett won an Oscar for her role in BlueJasmine​, and during her acceptance speech, she touched on something that Hollywood had yet to catch on to: “[They think] female films, with women at the centre, are niche experiences – they are not, audiences want to see them, and in fact, they earn money.” She said it in 2014, but they’re just barely catching on.

If you take a look at the films coming out of the major studios, there’s a tendency towards casting known White actors. It seems as if Hollywood believes that by doing so they will attract more viewers. Fans of Wes Anderson are aware that isn’t always the case.  When we focus on a specific group of people, like some examples we will be looking at momentarily, we’ll see how they aren’t minimizing the amount of viewers.

Taking a look at this year’s films, we had Crazy Rich Asians ​make an absolute killing at the box office because it focused on Asian-Americans and their battle with losing their identity in the melting pot of America. A resonant theme, for as I was born in Canada, it took a long time to be able to call myself Chilean. The film was loved and praised within the Asian and film communities even if it wasn’t a proper representation of each individual’s story, as it was still a substantial shift in narration that mattered. Who doesn’t love seeing their relatives’ doppelgangers on the big screen?

Recently, there was Get Out​, a great horror film that doubles as a statement on the black experience and how other cultures berate their own while stealing outright from them. Writer/Director Jordan Peele beautifully marries his comedy background with his own lived-in experiences as a black man, adding to Get Out‘s depth and resonance. Some of the audience, including myself, walked into the film expecting something comedic, but while the film can make you laugh, the comedy stems from the characters’ responses to the subject matter. With Blumhouse Productions on tap, the mass appeal of its “genre” stylings (a term hereby referring to sci-fi/horror/anything other than drama/comedy/musical) helped push the picture to profit. A horror film with name recognition that explores deep aspects of black culture? That’s a formula for gold at the box office.

There are examples in lighter films as well, as with my personal experiences with Pixar’s Coco​​. As I mentioned earlier, my parents emigrated from Chile, while I was born and raised in Toronto. I unfortunately have no current connections to Chile, but I still wept through Coco. There was something about those characters that spoke directly to my blood. No matter how many times someone assumes I am, I am not Mexican, but that was still my Abuela I saw on screen.

Let’s not forget Marvel’s Black Panther​, which also made an absolute killing. Look at the root of the equation, Marvel itself. They can almost guarantee they will make their money back, even with their “minor” films.  With Ryan Coogler hot off reinventing Rocky as Creed with his muse Michael B. Jordan, Marvel rallied their fans and fans of great cinema and had us foaming at the mouth. There wasn’t a doubt in Kevin Feige’s mind that Black Panther would pass a billion dollars.

There’s an evolution with these films, each a response to the other. We wouldn’t have BlackKklansman or Sorry To Bother You ​without Get Out ​or Moonlight​ ​. And there’s no way we’d have those without Do The Right Thing​, a film that is still timely, angry, comedic and diverse. It inspired a generation of filmmakers and writers who saw their experiences for the first-time on the big screen.

In reality, none of these films exist without their audience. Whether they be the “intended demographic” or not, people spending their money on films is what shows Hollywood that we want diverse content. That is why sequels to Black Panther and CrazyRich Asians​, along with Us (Peele’s follow-up to Get Out), were greenlit so quickly. Unfortunately, money talks. Paying to see films by and about people of colour allows us to see more films in the same vein. A cinema that is open to the globe and its communities benefits not only from the unique perspectives they open up to us, but through the empathy they instill as we learn we are not so alone on this earth. It gives us more reason to stick together and support one another. It’s time we learn that people aren’t niche.