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Friday, May 13, 2011

Who Will be the Next Black Stars?

There’s an ongoing crisis in Black Hollywood. It has nothing to do with getting Black screenplays greenlit, financing to make Black flims, or getting Black films distributed. It’s finding young fresh Black faces to become the next Black stars.

Most of today’s current popular African-American performers are over 35 and getting older. Leading Men Will Smith, Terrence Howard, Jamie Foxx and Tyler Perry are in their 40s. Leading Ladies like Kimberly Elise, Thandie Newton, Jada Pinkett, Taraji P. Henson, Vanessa Williams and Halle Berry are in their 40s to mid 40s, while Angela Bassett is over 50 and Whoopi Goldberg is close to 60. And veteran leading men like Denzel Washington and Laurence Fishburne are almost 60. And seasoned actors like Samuel L. Jackson are over 60 while Morgan Freeman is 73 years old.

Worse, the African-American up and coming performers are over 30 well. Actresses like Paula Patton and Zoe Saldana are in their mid to late 30s while the youngest actresses I can think of Jurnee Smollett, Raven Symone and Kyla Pratt are in their mid-20s. And the up and coming Black male lead performers? Not many working outside of Evan Ross. Oh and that curly haired brotha from High School Musical. What’s he doing right now?

Craft wise with so many Black performers being over 30, it means there’s no one around to take the place of veteran black performers and learn the craft of acting in the next few years. Worse, there are no new Black faces emerging who are strong enough to carry a movie on their own or open strongly at the box-office currently.

While I enjoy the work of many of the older Black performers, I feel there’s a desperate need for a youth movement in Black Hollywood and in Black Cinema. The average age of a young Black actor today is 35. To today’s young teen or twentysomething ticket buyer, those actors are OLD. For teens and twentysomethings today watching these performers is like watching, well their mothers and fathers telling their mother and father’s stories at the movies.

On the business side, I feel the glut of older stars is one of the reasons it’s so hard to get a Black film greenlit these days. Most studio executives are anxious about hiring older actors to lead films. Usually the older Black demographic isn’t as eager to pay money to go to the theater as younger audiences, and generally, films targeted to audiences over 40 often do very poorly at the box-office.

With Black films already having one strike against them because they target African-American audiences, the age issue often makes for a second strike against them. Couple these two strikes with the third strike of a history of poor performance at the box office and the fourth strike of an inability to sell to foreign audiences and it’s clear why African-American films are having a hard time getting out of development.

I also feel it’s one of the reasons most African-American films outside of Tyler Perry films are struggling to find audiences at the theater these days. Movies primarily are a youth-oriented business. It’s tween, teen, twentysomething and some thirtysomething performers who appeal to young audiences of ticket buyers. With most of today’s films appealing to older audiences, many of today’s Black youth don’t relate to or identify with the characters onscreen. Because they can’t see themselves in the characters onscreen, they have no reason to invest money in a movie ticket or the time to see the movie.

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