The summer box office season has vanished. With an ever-changing industry and the erasure of mid-budget films, Hollywood has started rolling out what would have been their massive summer blockbusters at various times throughout the year. With the rise of the superhero genre, the return or some massive franchises like Star Wars and J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World, studios are pulling audiences into theaters whenever they can, and more often than not, a large percentage of that audience are Black and brown faces.
In 2016, a year that saw Moonlight, Hidden Figures, and Fences all released to critical acclaim, Black people made up 15 percent of frequent moviegoers, while comprising of just 12 percent of the U.S. population. As films have slowly become more diverse, we continue to head to the theaters in droves. In fact, when the Dwayne Johnson action adventure Rampage was released last weekend, sliding into the number one spot with $34.5 million earned domestically, it was Black dollars that really contributed to the film’s success.
Johnson is obviously a massive star who has a unique way of engaging with his audience, but Warner Bros. marketing strategy in a post-Black Panther world was also vital. After Rampage’s opening weekend, Shadow and Act sat down to chat with Warner Bros.’ VP of Multicultural Marketing, Terra Potts, about why Black people came out in droves for the film. “I think it happened for multiple reasons,” Potts explained. “In Rampage, specifically, I think it’s because when you have a star as big as Dwayne Johnson, and Dwayne has this special quality that I think not a lot of movie stars have where he’s so accessible, and he’s able to transcend any boundaries that exist. He just brings in audiences in a very unique way, and his films always perform well with a multicultural audience. I think he just did it again here.”
Diversity has been a major buzzword in Hollywood for quite some time, but we’re now just beginning to see it come to fruition in real and meaningful ways. “It’s been in the forefront of everyone’s mind I think for a long time, even before Black Panther,” Potts stated. “In my experience, what some people don’t realize is that films take a long time to develop. By the time you find a concept, you find a script; you find the talent, it could take up to five years to create a film. So when you see a film like Rampage, it has Naomie Harris, it has Dwayne Johnson — that was already in the thought process long before Black Panther.”
Since Johnson’s star power was a given, Potts and her team at Warner Bros. knew they had the opportunity to approach marketing and promoting the film from a different angle. “We were really concerned about, ‘How do we get [Dwayne] coverage in a different way?'” Potts reflected. “So we thought apparel —streetwear. It was an unusual way to tap into our audience. We partnered with a company called Fat Tiger. They have a brick and mortar in Chicago, and the film’s about Chicago getting destroyed. Fat Tiger created an exclusive line just for Rampage, and they worked closely with Chance the Rapper’s charity, SocialWorks. We were able to make sure that all proceeds from the sales go to SocialWorks, which benefited all youth art programs in the city of Chicago. Because of that enthusiasm, Chance the Rapper was posting on social, a lot of influencers were picking up the partnership with Fat Tiger, and then Complex, who has a very cross-cultural audience, picked up on the program and was able to give it a national voice. So, it’s something that was so unique to the Chicago area that then became a national campaign. It was a unique way for a Dwayne property to get into the African-American community.”
Marketing has changed drastically for studios even in the past several years. Hollywood can no longer claim to be ignorant of what audiences are seeking and asking for. In the early 2000s, films that boasted multicultural casts across a vast number of genres that had been so popular in the ’90s disappeared from theaters. That can’t happen again. “Living in the age that we do now where everyone’s a content creator, we’re seeing that people want to see many different types of stories, and they want to see people reflected in different walks of life,” Potts clarified. “That’s a blessing to creators because it gives you more range to be able to create something different whereas before, in the ’90s, social media didn’t exist. The internet wasn’t what it is today, so it was a lot of guessing games and working off of what appeared to be working. Now, we have so much more access to research and the ability to see what people are interested in.”
As a diverse voice in the business who is standing behind the projects that Warner Bros. is presenting to the world, Potts realizes how essential her role in the industry is. “I’m in a very blessed situation,” she revealed. “I have a leadership (team) who really believes in what I do, and I am in the foreground, from even before a film gets greenlit, throughout the lifecycle of a whole marketing campaign. I have the opportunity to sit at the table and give a perspective and give ideas. I have a very diverse team that I work with. I think when you have people enrolled like that, just to give a different perspective, it doesn’t have to necessarily even be culturally diverse, it could be socioeconomically diverse — but just giving different opinions in the room is always valuable. It helps reach more audiences.”
Rampage is currently playing in theaters.
Aramide A Tinubu is a film critic and entertainment writer. As a journalist, her work has been published in EBONY, JET, ESSENCE, Bustle, The Daily Mail, IndieWire and Blavity. She wrote her master’s thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can find her reviews on Rotten Tomatoes.