Fast Color, Black Girl Magic, and the Unwillingness to Market Black Films to Non-Black Audiences

Fast Color has had my interest since its trailer popped up online a couple of months ago. It's out now and it’s getting great reviews. It’s being applauded as a great bit of sci-fi cinema and for how well it marries the intersections of race, gender identity, and societal pressure while elevating Black Girl Magic. But you're probably not gonna get to see it in a theater near you and support incredible and inclusive filmmaking depicting new faces and voices because Fast Color has a REALLY limited release. And when I say “REALLY limited release” I mean limited. I live in Portland, Oregon, the “woke” mecca, the land of dozens of local movie theaters and art houses that pride themselves on trumpeting unique visions and non-White voices and yet this movie is not showing at ONE MOVIE THEATER IN PORTLAND. NOT ONE. It's not even showing in another part of Oregon. Not in neighboring Washington either. And if this is the release situation in my neck of the woods then it is more than likely the same release situation for many of you too. Why? Beacuse according to the Hollywood Reporter, there wasn’t a single print ad for the film anywhere in the United States, and only a mere 25 theaters feature the film which is distributed by Lionsgate. 

You read that right: 25.

Frustrating? Yes. Hell yes. It’s supremely frustrating to love comic books, and science fiction, and all things geeky and never really see yourself depicted in any of the aforementioned with the same gravitas, strength, and confidence as the White folx you always see in the forefront of the geekdom. It’s also frustrating to watch unique voices and visions and the work of Black women being relegated to below the margins and sequestered away from mass distribution. But I'm not surprised that it got a limited release and no real marketing push of any kind. I mean should we be surprised at this point? Hollywood has made it clear time and again that it believes that films starring strong Black leads, especially strong Black female leads, are films that they perceive as not widely acceptable to the masses.

“There were women and people of color at every company that loved the movie — some men and some white men,” said Julia Hart, the director and co-writer of Fast Color who premiered the film at SXSW in 2018. “At the end of the day, when it got to the white male gatekeeper — time and time again — they said, ‘I don’t know who this movie is for. I don’t know how to market it.’” 

Theatrical Release Poster for Fast Color, Lionsgate, 2019.

Theatrical Release Poster for Fast Color, Lionsgate, 2019.

I call bullsh—.

At its core Fast Color is a science fiction film. You could even say it shares an intersection with superhero films. That’s two audiences that Hollywood has marketed to heavily over the last 20 years and has proven its effectiveness in doing so. On the flip side of that Hollywood has also shown time and again that when they give a damn about marketing a film (see: money going into their pockets without having to try too hard to get people to see something) that they make sure you know about a film’s release whether you care about it or not. You see, it’s blatantly obvious that if Hollywood can easily think of a way to monetize and commodify Blackness that they bottle it and serve it as a side for every meal, so to speak, until the masses are like, “I could really use a side of that Blackness” and hand over their money. Case in point: Black Panther.

As much as I loved Black Panther (it’s a great superhero movie; if superhero movies ain’t your bag I still recommend it) that film benefited greatly from marketing that made the Blackness of the film “attractive”. They posited Black Panther as a cultural phenomenon, a bit of cinematic history you did not want to miss, and a film that Black people could see with pride. They made Black Panther a thing. But let’s be real: as great of a film as Black Panther is Disney saw the money they could make from this venture and treated it as such. It was Black but not too black. It was Black and sci-fi but, again, not too Black. And it was just Black enough to not be completely disarming and discomforting to White comic geeks, many of whom are cis males that harbor a whole lot of racist and sexist views (we’ll chat about that another time). And the thing is this mentality and mindset branches out into all major studio Black film releases and how they are treated and marketed/non marketed to anyone who isn’t Black.

Think about it: do you think that if Green Book was handled and marketed the same way that Black films like Fast Color and If Beale Street Could Talk (to a lesser extent but you get what I’m saying) were handled and marketed that Green Book would’ve won an Oscar? Of course not. But Green Book was “attractive”. It was written, directed, and acted in a way that was instantly made to cater to Whiteness. Green Book and its revisionist history and misrepresentation of the working relationship between Dr. Don Shirley and his chauffeur (yes, his chauffeur and not his friend - Google it) Tony Vallelonga made White filmgoers feel like they too could be a White savior and that their Whiteness, privilege, and complacency were not challenged or made a point of discomfort for them while watching a film set in the Midwest and the Deep South in 1962 that had nowhere near as much racial tension as it should’ve had.

In other words if you make a film that could be categorized as “merely a Black film” in any way you automatically open yourself up as a creative to having to prove that your artistic vision is indeed “acceptable” to mainstream audiences (read: White) while possibly, just maybe, challenging some of the stereotypes and stigmas that go into the heavy invisible backpack that Black folx, and especially Black women, don’t get to leave at home every day as they navigate the world.

Still from the feature film “Green Book”, 2018.

Still from the feature film “Green Book”, 2018.

Now some of y’all will read this (cough White readers cough) and be like, “I guess I hear what you’re saying but maybe these films just aren’t marketable to everyone. Maybe everyone doesn’t want to see them or is even interested in seeing them.” I’ve heard that argument before and it is a horrible argument. It’s an argument littered with privilege and a belief that films with Black casts and Black writers and Black directors are for colored people only. It’s invalid, invalidating, and basically movie Jim Crow. No one is saying you have to see every movie that comes out. And no one is saying that you need to be interested in every genre of film. But what White Hollywood and White moviegoers always fail to see is that non-White folx really do want to see themselves in the films and television shows they consume without seeing caricatures of themselves steeped in easily digestible stereotypes and vernacular and what-not that cater to White audiences and don’t deal with reality, both cultural and common. And you know what? There’s a lot of White folx who want to see these films and shows with real diversity and inclusion and more equitable casting.

The other thing that makes the argument that Black films aren’t marketable to mass markets a weak presumption at best is the fact that half the damn movies that come out aren’t marketable to all audiences and yet they get marketed down our throats. Hollywood has marketed 84 damn Fast and the Furious movies to the masses (I’m exaggerating. Or am I…?). They marketed that atrocious Holmes & Watson film with Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly and aimed it at everyone who has ever even remotely liked Ferrell and Reilly’s work. They market Oscar bait like Green Book to the masses all the time. Did I want to see any of those films? Nope. Hell to the nope. Not even interested. Yet there are enough White moviegoers that the movie studios know will pay to see these films that they don’t deem it necessary to do a targeted marketing campaign - they do a full-scale media blitz. Just because you as a White moviegoer perceives Black films as films that everyone doesn’t want to see or have as entertainment options doesn’t mean that is the case because, well, it’s not. This kind of thinking is short-sighted and steeped in what you want to see, disregarding the experiences of others. But that is how Whiteness operates in the United States. Studio executives, the ones that make the big decisions on marketing at least, tend to be White cisgender males who see it the same way as you do, John/Joan Q. Public.

The thing is the folx at Lionsgate? They didn't WANT to market this movie. If not that they at least didn't want to have to put in the work to market Fast Color as a film for everyone interested in the genres I touched on earlier. They didn’t see money in this film. They couldn’t figure out how to market Black Girl Magic without a stereotype to put at the forefront of the marketing. No “sassy Black woman with a heart of gold”? No “Madea” type (for those not in the know, a “Madea” type is a Black cis male dressed as an older Black cis female and shuckin’ and jivin’ for the audience’s amusement)? However could Lionsgate market this film then? Because unless there’s a whole heap of stereotypes present and/or there’s a White savior who makes it all better Hollywood can’t see themselves raking in that sweet green.

It’s a real shame that Fast Color will likely never be seen by many people or heard of by many filmgoers who would be interested in seeing what appears to be a compelling and well-done piece of sci-fi cinema. My hope is that word-of-mouth spreads and that the shame of not promoting Fast Color prompts Lionsgate to at least put this film in another 25 theaters. It and films like it deserve way more of a chance to thrive and connect with folx than they ever get the chance to.

And if you think me hoping for 25 additional theaters is a low number? You’re right. It is low. But I’m Black in the United States. My expectations stay low, especially when White power and privilege are holding the keys to the car.

Here’s to Fast Color and Black Girl Magic. If this film is out in a theater near you please go see it. To try to find a showing near you click here.