It's about our community and our spirituality!

Why Avatar Not Winning Best Picture Is Truly A Good Thing

I have to admit to some satisfaction over the fact that the movie Avatar didn’t simply walk away with every trophy from every Oscar category it was nominated for. I have yet to see the movie. I have no doubt I’ll get around to it when it becomes part of the Netflix offerings. But until then, I’m going to have to rely on trying to make due with the reviews from people I trust and a few from people that I don’t. I have a nephew who thought that the visual and special effects from the Matrix sequels were enough to compensate for the weak storyline that could hardly be recognized as a continuation of the original. So when he said that Avatar was great, I started reaching for the salt shaker.

I did read a lot of reviews that thought the movie’s story was somewhat lacking. There were a ton of jokes that accused James Cameron, Avatar’s producer and director and nurturer, of having raided his budget for writing to help pay for one of his many supercomputers used to generate 3-D graphics some would swear were every bit as good as reality. From what I understand, the movie seems to be a bit like a futuristic remake of Dances with Wolves featuring Kevin Costner released to the public with much fanfare a couple decades ago.

And while that in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing, there just seems to be too much reliance on the latest in computerized animation as the sole reason to see this film. There have been other films that have relied on expensive theatrics to make up for their lack of a story. The previously mentioned Matrix Reloaded and Matrix Revolutions are two that come to mind. But nothing has been done with such extreme anticipation as Avatar.

What really gets my goat with this film is the fact that its budget, despite the lack of funding for writers, was tremendous. The development of the film itself is rumored to have cost in excess of three hundred million dollars. Throw in the cost for a no holds barred marketing campaign and its heavy reliance on distribution to theaters featuring the latest in three dimension films to assure that it gets the most of people’s attention, the film comes reasonably close to a half billion dollars to produce. And while that might sound like an unreasonable amount to spend on the development of a movie, in the three months since its release, the film has already grossed close to three billion dollars. As fast as its sales are going, there’s little doubt that by the time you finish reading this article the three billion dollar milestone will be broken on its way to the four billion mark.

But somebody had to have enough faith in Mr. Cameron’s dream and his development of film and camera technology to Avatar levels. Somebody was willing to pony up the half billion in order for this film to be produced. What would be the chances of somebody investing even just a healthy fraction of that kind of money in a film by a black producer or a black director?

The last time somebody had faith in doing something new and unheard of with anything remotely resembling a black genre was probably the made for television mini series Roots based on the book with the same name by Alex Haley. These films centered around the life of the enslaved African Kunta Kinte, played by LeVar Burton and John Amos, and the lives of his descendents. By every measure the film was an overwhelming broadcast success. But its 1977 budget of six million dollars pales in comparison to an Avatar sized film budget. Even if we adjusted to 2010 dollars we are only talking about no more than forty million dollars.

It is inevitable. Somebody will say if black people want to see black films in the vein of Avatar then black people should do it for our own. Whoever says that will have a very minor point unworthy of its distraction from the real issue. After all, when James Cameron went to sell his story of the Na’vi, the native people on Pandora where Avatar takes place, to his financiers nobody told him to let the Na’vi pay for their own movie. We seem to reserve such disdain for people in the black community who talk about racial disparity in the selective production and investment in movies. And like many things that fall along racial lines, the black community seems to come up short out of this comparison.

So when I see a big budget film like Avatar with its visual orgy of computer graphics lose out to its more mundane competition, I see this as an extremely good thing. Maybe in the future people who finance these films will be more apt to take their half billion dollars and invest in the development of a couple dozen films instead of putting all of their eggs in one basket. And out of those couple dozen films, there just might be one or two that might be a film with a black theme.

Monday, March 8, 2010 - Posted by | African Americans, Black Community, Black Culture, Black People, Life, Thoughts


  1. It’s all about money. Whites will generally refuse to see a movie/read a book/etc unless they are at the center of it somehow. There are a few notable exceptions to this of course, but not many. Blacks will go see movies/read books that have no blacks in them at all.

    In the US, whites are still 70% of the population. Blacks are only 13% of the population. So movie makers go where the money is.

    Comment by Shady_Grady | Wednesday, March 10, 2010 | Reply

    • Thanks for the feedback Shady_Grady,

      It’s not just all about money. There have been some phenomenal financial successes in black films. Movies like Boomerang and Antwone Fisher come to mind. They probably didn’t get a vast majority of their revenue from the white community but they were successes nevertheless. And yet, we don’t see many more of these movies in the pipe. Besides, what percentage of the population is Na’vi?


      Comment by brotherpeacemaker | Wednesday, March 10, 2010 | Reply

  2. Hi BPM,
    I’ll put it like this. I would argue that Antwone Fisher , at least, was not a huge financial success. I think it “only” made about $20 million worldwide. Boomerang did much better but that was almost 20 years ago. Like I wrote, there’s always exceptions to the rule but surely we can’t be surprised that in a country populated mostly by whites, they prefer to see themselves on screen.

    If Blacks could start showing more of a similar preference there might be more black movies made. I don’t think that Hollywood ISN’T racist. I just doubt that Hollywood is any more racist that the larger white population.

    I don’t like his movies or his message or him personally but someone like Tyler Perry has identified movies and themes that WILL sell to black audiences and has made some money doing so.

    I would love to see a big budget movie version of Nat Turner’s Rebellion, the Haitian Revolution, Hannibal’s wars against Rome, Ursula K. LeGuin’s EarthSea cycle (which was whitened for TV) or similar stories but the bottom line is that whites are almost guaranteed not to watch such movies and Blacks are iffy. So the films aren’t being made..

    Comment by Shady_Grady | Wednesday, March 10, 2010 | Reply

    • Shady_Grady,

      Considering the budget for Antwone Fisher was just three million dollars and its worldwide revenue was $23 million, that should be seen as a success. But a lot of people look at the $23 million in a vacuum not realizing that by all practical measures the movie made money for its investors. Boomerang had a budget of about $40 million and to date has done about $130 million. It would have to do about $300 million in worldwide sales to match Antwone Fisher’s numbers.

      You would have to bring Tyler Perry up. I can’t stand the man or his special brand of black entertainment. You are most correct, a lot of black people love him for the crap he spews. But I must point out that Tyler Perry isn’t getting the money to do his films from the black community. He has to get investors just like anyone else. A lot of people will be more than happy to pony up the money for such sophomoric entertainment that helps to retard the struggles of black people to be taken seriously.


      Comment by brotherpeacemaker | Wednesday, March 10, 2010 | Reply

  3. Brother,

    I think any black artist or creative person has to deal with the fact that a great many white consumers are not as interested in his or her art as they are in the white versions of the same thing. I am mostly a music fan so I’ll use that as an example.

    BB King is a better musician than Billy Gibbons. Fishbone was better than Red Hot Chili Peppers or No Doubt. Albert King was better than Stevie Ray Vaughn. Buddy Guy is better than Eric Clapton. Herbie Hancock is better than Diana Krall. Yet, ZZ Top, RCHP, No Doubt, SRV and Clapton and others made and continue to make millions more in unit sales or touring receipts than their black contemporaries/originators. Why? Because the (larger) white audience will spend more money to see white people do something than the audience will for blacks.

    That’s the same thing going on in movies. It’s incredibly frustrating but I don’t see how it can be changed easily or quickly. If I’m an investor/studio owner and someone wants $20 million from me for one of two opportunities, all else equal, I would likely invest in the movie with the greater chance of a larger return. If someone wants $100 million or more than the movie has to be able to reach as many people as possible. Since whites often do not see their own humanity reflected in blacks, black stories are thought of as for blacks alone, while white stories are considered “universal”. Again, it’s a pure numbers game.

    The only way to change this in my opinion is for blacks to stop spending money on movies that don’t feature blacks at the center of the story. Right now Tyler Perry has the market locked up.

    Comment by Shady_Grady | Wednesday, March 10, 2010 | Reply

    • Shady_Grady,

      I think the film to music comparison is unfair. True, Fishbone may be a better musician than the Red Hot Chili Peppers. But both do get their music out to the public. The difference in the cost of development of their music isn’t particularly different. Film is a totally different animal that requires a lot more resources. And while people like James Cameron will get their half billion dollars to tell a quality story, black artist are struggling to get just a fraction of that kind of money to tell a similar black themed story. It used to happen. There was a time when black films of quality and taste were told with much more regularity. Roots was already mentioned. There was also Eve’s Bayou, Buck and the Preacher, Cornbread, Earl and Me, Cooley High. Something happened along the way and many of us are more than happy to settle for some Madea Goes to Jail crap that ranks down there with Earnest Saves Christmas.

      But despite what difference of opinion we might have for the reason why, I will agree that the problem is that the black community is more than ready to pay to see films that do not serve the black community in any way, shape, or form. Why any black person would allow their children to see Hannah Montana or Twilight is beyond me. The number of black people who stepped up to the plate to defend Disney’s lame attempt at placating the black community with the Princess and the Frog is truly sad. Some of us absolutely refuse to see the current state of affairs. And one thing I do about people with money, they won’t change anything unless their bottom line is threatened.


      Comment by brotherpeacemaker | Wednesday, March 10, 2010 | Reply

  4. Well Brotherpeacemaker…..I mostly agree with you points of view. This time however I don’t quite know where to stand.
    What if avatar had been an all black production would it have been a good thing not winning Best Picture?
    Why don’t we see many great movies in the pipe?
    Is it because effort is no longer the force behind our inherent excellence? Are we under the false illusion of having arrived and can now ride into and down the pipe on someone else’s coat tails or think that we can present buttons for someone else to sew shirts on?
    It seems to me that we don’t take or don’t understand that we should, take responsibility for our own excellence any more.
    I have no doubt that anything that can be conceived in the movie industry will be achieved by black film artists if they choose to undertake the task INSPITE OF adverse circumstances. while there is not enough money in small populations, the at large population is a wellspring of resources.
    Well so much for what I think.

    Comment by Akinwole | Wednesday, March 10, 2010 | Reply

    • Thanks for the feedback Akinwole,

      But if Avatar was an all black production or had a black themed equivalent then we wouldn’t have a problem here. The problem is that these days a black film told from a black perspective, provided it would get somebody’s approval to be made, would only get a fraction of the money needed to be produced, or black themed films are relegated to specific genres like urban hip hop or social stereotypes like one of Tyler Perry’s Madea movies. The production of black feel good movies has dried up significantly. And I refuse to believe it is a money issue. People like Will Farrell and Ewin McGregor are handsomely paid to lead movies that have a good chance of being financial bombs. Yet, neither one is in danger of being out of work anytime soon.


      Comment by brotherpeacemaker | Wednesday, March 10, 2010 | Reply

  5. BPM, here are some blog posts that touch on how movies get financed/created by the writer/screenwriter/producer Steve Barnes. I don’t agree always with a lot of what he writes but on the other hand he works in the industry and I don’t.

    My take is that whether we think Hollywood is more racist than society or not doesn’t really matter. The question ultimately is what are we-as a community or a collection of individuals- going to do about it.

    It’s a fair point that music costs less to create than do movies. But my only larger point is that the most profitable music and movies are directed to the largest (whitest) audience possible.

    Comment by Shady_Grady | Wednesday, March 10, 2010 | Reply

    • Shady_Grady,

      Whether or not Hollywood is more racist is a moot point. If they tend to cater to a racist audience then the end result is the same. Whether or not you believe there is racism in the movie industry or that the industry is only trying to get the money of people who are racist and therefore caters to their wish to treat black people as second class citizens who don’t need to be recognized as equals, the end result is that the black community loses.


      Comment by brotherpeacemaker | Wednesday, March 10, 2010 | Reply

      • Hi BPM
        The reason it matters is because it lets people know where to focus their attention. If Hollywood was more racist then the larger market then presumably we could change Hollywood and see more of the sorts of movies we want to see because they’d still make lots of $$$.

        On the other hand, if the industry reflects the larger audience or is even less racist than the larger audience then focusing on Hollywood to finance more Black movies or get more black writers, producers, actors, will only make some small changes at the margins, because the white audience will not respond.

        As America becomes blacker and browner I think you will start to see changes in Hollywood but this will lag by 2-3 decades. 30-40 years ago, Will Smith/Wesley Snipes/Denzel couldn’t be the hero in a movie. Now they can be the hero but they can’t get the girl. 10-20 years down the road, their industry descendants might be able to get the girl AND be the hero, because the audience will have changed.

        Comment by Shady_Grady | Thursday, March 11, 2010

      • Shady_Grady,

        On the contrary. Racism for money is still racism. If people who are willing to tolerate racism for the sake of money then they are no different than people who practice racism for the sake of racism. Especially when we live in social conditions that have created a huge wealth gap between the black community and the white community. If we were to recognize acts of racism and blatant discrimination for the crimes that they truly are instead of making excuses and tolerating this social malfeasance then we would consider these people accomplices.

        If it was only a matter of money then I could probably understand things a little differently. When you look at the issue from such a small perspective, understanding that for every dollar of wealth that the white community controls the black community controls something like two cents, then yes it would be true that the discrimination in film production is natural and that there would be very little the black community can do to overcome this unhealthy social condition.

        But if we look at the history of black cinema it is hard to believe that this is the case. At one time Hollywood managed to produce the types of films that respected the black community. At one time, people in the black community were offered a plethora of entertainment products that were more reflective of the entire black community and not just hip hop culture or crime. How much was Hollywood making then? What changed? If it was just a matter of dollars and black films were performing so poorly at the box office then I could understand that. But even when black films makers develop a reputation for earning money many times over their budget to produce, the financiers aren’t very likely to support the development of more films that could represent the entire spectrum of the black experience.

        And I seriously have to disagree with your assumption that thirty to forty years ago black people were not portrayed as heroes or heroic. There were plenty of films that featured black heroes or at least told the story of the black experience from a variety of different perspectives. You had your Richard Roundtree as Shaft, Cooley High, Cornbread, Earl and Me, Uptown Saturday Night, A Raisin in the Sun, Roots, Which Way is Up, Greased Lightening, and so many others. To say that there were no black heroes back in the day is to close your eyes to what we had once upon a time and to continue to make excuses and even nurture the racial discrimination of today that was not always the case. All those black films were not a mirage. They were very real. When you compare that to what we have today it is pretty obvious that we are not witnessing racial progress but the exact opposite.

        And as if to add insult to injury the black actress with strong black features appears to be sliding off camera as well. Most black women featured in films these days are in the vein of Beyonce or Halle Berry. Black actresses with strong black features like Cicely Tyson, Madge Sinclair, and Ruby Dee are not being developed. What people want to see are black women with keen Caucasoid features. Case in point, look at Uhura in the latest Star Trek movie. While the producers of that film sought actors who somewhat resembled their previous incarnations, the new Uhura looked nothing like the original portrayed by Nichelle Nichols. This is progress? Back in the day, not only did Shaft get the girl, the girl was easily identifiable as a black woman with strong black features.

        But a lot of people are under the impression that if we do nothing and just be patient things will get better because the black community will continue to become insignificant and will eventually be replaced with a larger community of browner people who will more than likely disassociate from the black experience because of the lack of strong black role models who identify with the black community. That is not a day I look forward to. I think the black community is worth my black identity today and not some future promise of a brown identity tomorrow.


        Comment by brotherpeacemaker | Thursday, March 11, 2010

  6. its so strange that some of us are so quick to put down Tyler Perry’s film arguing that it is so stereotypical while that it may be, people also fail to realise the that this man portrays some of the characters as lawyers, doctors, buisnessmen and women, he also hires an all black cast and not just light skinned ones with “Caucasoid features” We’ve had stars like Maya Angelou, Ceciely tyson, Angela Bassest, jennifer Lewis, Steve Harris, Kimberley Elise and more. These actors and actresses must have seen something far more in Tyler Perry than his stereotypical characters. While his films may not be true to ones life as many films, at least this man is always ready to hire black people wether they are singers,costume designers or stuntmen. Those madea movies is just the beginning for this writer/director/producer.Im looking out for “Coloured Girls” a serious film which im sure many are also ready slate.


    Comment by loc and key | Saturday, October 16, 2010 | Reply

    • Thanks for the feedback loc and key,

      But the fact that there are so many people quick to put down Tyler Perry’s work is no stranger than all the people who are so quick to defend this stuff. The fact that there are doctors and lawyers in a film or that a film uses an all black cast doesn’t mean much of anything. In Spike Lee’s film Bamboozled, the main character in the film put together an all black cast to do a show about porch monkeys and other jigaboos didn’t really mean that it was something progressive for the black community.

      I will admit that I, and others, might be harder on Mr. Perry and his so called “work” than most people. But that doesn’t surprise me. Most black professionals in the entertainment industry are given a pass by the black community. We don’t give much consideration to what makes for positive black role models or negative ones. The fact that we’re being represented at all is enough for most people. Maybe things will change with this film “Coloured Girls”. But if his past work is any indication I hope you’ll forgive me if I maintain my doubts.


      Comment by brotherpeacemaker | Saturday, October 16, 2010 | Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: