Los Angeles (AP) – To entice a European TV executive shopping for programs a few years ago, ABC Studios offered up glossy fare including “Scandal” starring Kerry Washington and “How to Get Away with Murder” with Oscar-winner Viola Davis.
“’This is great, but when are you going to start bringing us shows that don’t have black leads?”’ the buyer asked in the 2015 meeting, as thenABC executive Channing Dungey recounts. “I was sitting in a room in the 21st century, and I thought I was being slapped across the face.”
The remark was unusually blunt but the attitude is a familiar one within Hollywood’s own ranks: that African American actors and stories make for poor exports, an assertion that’s burdened black artists and limited their opportunity and influence.
Until now. Box-office hits like “Black Panther” and the ethnically diverse “Fast & Furious” franchise increasingly undercut what filmmaker Ava DuVernay calls a “longstanding myth,” joined by a new generation of successful small-screen fare.
It’s an issue with resonance, as American torment over to the videotaped death of a black man in police custody is reflected in demonstrations held far outside this nation’s borders. Protesters carrying “We Are All George Floyd” and “Black Lives Matter” placards have gathered in cities including Montreal, London, Paris, Rio de Janeiro and Auckland.
Dungey, who at ABC became the first African American to head a major broadcast network and now is Netflix’s vice president for original series, says diversity’s appeal is proven by the streaming service’s globally distributed programs and closely held viewership figures provided to The Associated Press.
Racial discrimination and injustice are themes of some, but not all, of the Netflix projects that have drawn widespread audiences. The characters tend to be African American, created by the black writers, directors and stars whose progress in the U.S. entertainment industry has outpaced that of other people of color.
“When They See Us,” DuVernay’s Emmy-winning miniseries about the Central Park Five case, was watched by 31 million households worldwide in its first month of release, according to Netflix, with 51 percent of the audience outside the United States. “American Son,” about a missing black teenager that was produced by and starred Washington, was watched in 17 million homes worldwide in its first month, with non-U.S. subscribers making up 46 percent of viewers.
“Raising Dion,” about a black youngster with superpowers, drew attention from 32 million households, with 60 percent outside the U.S.