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NPR Arts & Life

'Black Panther' Success Proves That Movies With Black Actors Can Do Well Internationally


Over the long weekend, a lot of people saw "Black Panther."


LETITIA WRIGHT: (As Shuri) Hey, look at your suit. You've been taking bullets, charging it up with kinetic energy.

SHAPIRO: It broke box office records. The movie performed well not just here in the U.S. but in increasingly important foreign markets, too. NPR's Andrew Limbong reports this success helps prove a certain myth wrong.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: The myth is that international audiences don't go see movies directed by and starring black people. This notion is trotted out in movie trade publications. It's cited as a reason there aren't more big-budget black films being made. Here's George Lucas on "The Daily Show" back in 2012 talking about his difficulty with the studios in producing "Red Tails." It was directed by Anthony Hemingway, a black man, about the Tuskegee Airmen.


GEORGE LUCAS: They don't believe there is any foreign market for it.

LIMBONG: But here's the data courtesy of Jeff Bock with the box office analyst firm Exhibitor Relations.

JEFF BOCK: "Black Panther" opened with 169 million over the traditional three-day.

LIMBONG: That is not including Presidents Day, which other countries don't have. Now, it's a little tricky to compare international numbers, says Bock, but...

BOCK: You look at "Thor: Ragnarok." That opened with 107 million international. "Doctor Strange" opened at 86 million.

LIMBONG: Bock says "Black Panther" on its own is operating at "Avengers"-level box office pull. Disney CEO Bob Iger tweeted, quote, "the world has embraced 'Black Panther,' which has obliterated expectations, broken records and shattered myths." So is this myth that black films don't do well overseas finally dead? Here's Gil Robertson, president of the African American Film Critics Association.

GIL ROBERTSON: I don't think that conversation is closed, but it's closing.

LIMBONG: He notes recent successes like "Get Out," which made 78 million at the foreign box office, and "Hidden Figures," which made 66 million, not to mention the F. Gary Gray-directed "Fate Of The Furious," which made over a billion internationally. Then again, films starring black people have been making money overseas for decades.

ROBERTSON: Obviously Will Smith films and Eddie Murphy movies have been cracking the box office overseas for years. But yet those films were sort of seen as exceptions.

LIMBONG: But he says "Black Panther" could have a stronger hand in quashing this myth not just because it's doing so well but because its blackness was central.

ROBERTSON: I mean, my goodness, it was one of the blackest films I've ever seen, and I'm a black film critic, so (laughter)...

LIMBONG: Keep in mind, these big international numbers we've been talking about - all before "Black Panther" opens in huge markets like Russia, Japan and China. Andrew Limbong, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.