As ‘Black Panther’ shows, inclusion pays at the box office

By JAKE COYLE

AP Film Writer

NEW YORK — A lavish, headline-grabbing premiere. Lightning word-of-mouth stoked by glowing reviews. Packed movie theaters with sold-out shows, long lines and fans decked out as characters from the film.

The phenomenon of “Black Panther” had the look and feel of a classic, bona fide blockbuster in route to its record-setting $201.8 million debut over the weekend, or an estimated $235 million Friday through Monday. Much has been made about the film industry’s struggles to tap into pop culture the way it once more regularly did — that TV and streaming options and a dearth of fresh ideas have diminished the power of the big screen.

But when Hollywood does manufacture a must-see theatrical event, it has increasingly been propelled by the power of inclusivity. Just as Jordan Peele’s Oscar-nominated “Get Out” ($253 million worldwide on a $4.5 million production budget) and Patty Jenkins “Wonder Woman” ($821.1 million) did before it, “Black Panther” captured the zeitgeist by the potent combination of top-notch filmmaking (the film stands at 97 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes), studio backing and an audience hungry to see itself represented on the big screen in a way it seldom has before.

At the box office, inclusion is paying — and often, it’s paying off big time.

“Diversity does in fact, sell,” said Darnell Hunt, a professor and director of social science at UCLA whose research has detailed the connection between diversity and bottom lines. “In hindsight, it’s kind of a no-brainer. The American public is about 40 percent people of color now, and we know that people of color over-index in terms of media consumption. The patterns we’ve been seeing are only becoming more pronounced as time goes on.”