I wrote a review of ‘Love, Simon’ and talked about its humour and its adaptational changes. What I barely touched upon was the fact that this film was about a romance between two teenage boys, and I did not put a focus on the number of black actors in the film. I decided to place emphasis on the film on its own terms rather than obsessing over its diversity. Hollywood should do the same.
There is an abundance of people who see greater pushes for diversity as painful pandering or an easy way for creators of art to lose money, and there are others who push for diversity at the expense of quality, accuracy or subtlety. Both approaches are flawed and I believe ‘Love, Simon’ does neither, though I want to focus on this idea that movies have to stick to the status quo to make money.
As of April 15, ‘Love, Simon’ has made over US$49 million, which includes both the domestic and the foreign box office. The budget was US$17 million, meaning that this film earned over double of what it cost. It also has a 93% score on Rotten Tomatoes as well as a 91% audience score. If that’s not a success I don’t know what is.
‘Love, Simon’ isn’t the only film with a diverse cast of characters to make money and be well-received. ‘Black Panther’, an action film with a cast of many black actors and sizeable budget of $200 million has made over $1 billion worldwide.
This is not to say that diversity is what made these films succeed, especially in the case of Black Panther, which fans of Marvel movies were likely to see regardless of the colour of the actors’ skin. However, these numbers show that having characters that differ from your average white, straight male character is not box office poison.
Film producers, particularly those working in Hollywood, have had a tendency of fearing risk despite the fact that filmmaking is a high-risk, high-reward job. Look at the fear Michael Eisner felt regarding the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. He believed it wouldn’t sell well because pirate movies were seen as a dead genre, movies about theme park rides were seen as doomed to fail or at least only partially succeed, Johnny Depp’s performance as Jack Sparrow was seen as too ‘drunk’ or ‘gay’ and the more adult moments in the film would make the film be perceived as too mature for a Disney movie. He even tried to halt pre-production of the film, which the filmmakers proceeded to shoot in secret. This film was clearly a risk and yet it obviously paid off, with the first film grossing over US$ 1 billion worldwide.
I encourage producers to make decisions not based on outdated ideas of what will sell but on interesting stories with the potential for quality. Yes, sometimes a film is unlucky but oftentimes the film doesn’t do well because it’s not a good film despite having traits that should have ‘guaranteed’ that they become a hit. This is especially true in the internet age, where word of mouth spreads faster and anyone can have easy access to reviews with a touch on a screen, which can make a film that many people saw on its first weekend dramatically drop in numbers on its second.
‘Love, Simon’, though flawed, is a good film. It succeeded because it’s sweet, funny and has an interesting plot. It succeeded regardless of the sexual orientation of the main character. It succeeded not just because it has a gay main character or black supporting characters but because people liked the film, and the marketing, which painted the film as a love story and had a fitting sense of humour, drew people to it.
Diversity is not a destroyer of movies nor is it the only reason why a film can be popular. Diversity is a part of life and it should be treated by Hollywood the same way it should be treated in real life, with a smile and a shrug.