Cinemas Want Diversity Post-“Panther”

There’s only one thing that pushes the movie industry to really change its attitudes and focus – money. With the stunning success of “Black Panther” recently on top of the big success of “Wonder Woman” last year, even the most conservative and temperamental branch of moviegoing is finally taking notice – yep, the exhibitors.

John Fithian, the top lobbyist for the exhibition industry and head of the National Association of Theatre Owners, tells Variety that those successes have confirmed something he’s been pushing for years – diversity. And he’s not just talking about race or gender either:

“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.”

Fithian hopes the grosses will give studios the courage to bankroll more movies with diverse casts and to champion stories with female and black protagonists:

“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.”

That is being reflected next month where the four biggest movies to open involves an impressively mixed group where the leads are a young black female (“A Wrinkle in Time”), a white adult female (“Tomb Raider”), a black adult male (“Pacific Rim: Uprising”) and a white teenage male (“Ready Player One”).

Fithian also says the one thing he’d like to see more of is the return of the mid-budget movie, something which has effectively disappeared bar the odd outlier:

“If you look at the breakdown of the top movies of the last five years, we have more global blockbusters than ever before and a good, steady stream of independent, intelligent, award-worthy movies, but we don’t have as many mid-budget movies. That’s what I’d like to see change.”

At the end of the weekend, “Black Panther” currently sits at $704 million worldwide after just ten days in release.