Genre films still have a long way to go when it comes to representing people beyond the straight, white, male audience Hollywood has long catered to. But two superheroic events recently have more than just fans excited for more diverse offerings—theater owners are psyched, too.
Speaking to Variety, John Fithian, head of the National Association of Theatre Owners, says the success of films like Wonder Woman (which carved a path through box office records for female-led and female-directed movies last year) and Black Panther (which is currently reigning over the box office in a tour de force only rivaled by Star Wars: The Force Awakens in recent years) defies two major Hollywood beliefs. One, that big movies can only come out in the summer or the run-up to Christmas, and two, that there isn’t money in mainstream movie fare that appeals to a much broader audience than the typically expected:
Theater owners have been asking for more diversity in movies for a long time, and by diversity we mean diversity in casting and diversity in times of the year when movies are released.
The traditional norm is that big movies only go in the summer and winter holiday. Black Panther proves if you’re good, people will come out and see you any time of the year. It also shows that a movie with an all-black cast and a black director can break records. It’s not the race or the sex of the actors in a movie, it’s the quality of the movie that matters.
We want these movies to set a precedent and not be one-offs that people forget about. We’d like to see this more and more and more. There should be a Latino superhero movie or an Asian superhero movie. The more you have different types of people in these movies, the more you appeal to different types of audiences.
Of course, as head of the National Association of Theatre Owners, Fithian’s comments are financially driven—movies that speak to more audiences, particularly underrepresented audiences, mean more money being spent at theaters by a wider range of people. But a box office that also reflects the diversity of the audience that is seeing these movies is an important one beyond just monetary gain. Representation matters, and letting people from all walks of life see themselves on the big screen is as vital as it is good business for theaters.