Film Noir

Distribution is the key to box-office success. Here's how black filmmakers can capitalize on the existing Hollywood network and some innovative alternatives.

average. Films such as Boyz N the Hood (667%), Makolm X (327%) and Glory (335%) have all performed significantly above the industry’s 119% mainstream movie tally.

Percy Miller, better known as platinum-selling rapper Master P, sold over two million copies of his 1997 independent film I’m Bout It in less than 15 weeks. Unsatisfied with the offers he received from studios, he packaged the $1.5 million production for release in video stores. Leveraging his platinum rap status, Miller placed advertisements for the video in each of his CDs and cassettes. In light of his double-platinum success with his first film, Miller can pick and choose the right distribution deal for his independent follow-up, I Got the Hook Up.

Cable television, with access to over 70 million U.S. households, is another ripe outlet for black films. Spike Lee’s documentary of the Alabama church bombings, Four Little Girls, was primarily distributed via Show-time, although it had a limited theatrical release during the summer. HBO-produced First Time Felon, directed by Charles S. Dutton, is another example of the growing opportunities to tell black stories outside the Hollywood studio system. Technological advancements such as pay-per-view, digital television and the Internet also provide viable alternatives.

While the major distribution companies may still have a stranglehold on the traditional means of film distribution, black filmmakers need not succumb to their grip. Films such as Soul Food and Sankofa, both of which took completely different routes to the silver screen, lend credence to the belief that black audiences want to see more than sex, drugs and violence. But the most important variable in the distribution equation is you. Whether through movie theaters or video sales, black audiences can vote with their dollars, ensuring a broad palette from which black filmmakers can paint our stories.

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