Harvey Weinstein on Rise of African-American Film: ‘It's the Obama Effect’ (Exclusive)

Harvey Weinstein on Rise of African-American Film: 'It's the Obama Effect' (Exclusive)

The studio chief said there's a cultural shift — but that's not why he's releasing three stories with black protagonists this year

The number of African-American stories being told at the cineplex this year amount to a “renaissance” propelled by an “Obama Harvey+Weinsteineffect,” said movie studio chief Harvey Weinstein at the Toronto Film Festival on Monday.

“It's overdue,” the Weinstein Co. co-chairman told TheWrap. “You have great black filmmakers like Lee Daniels, Ryan Coogler, Steve McQueen, and great actors like Idris (Elba) and Chiwetel (Ejiofor) and Naomie Harris. It's a great moment.”

He added: “Hopefully it signals, with President Obama, a renaissance. He's erasing racial lines. It is the Obama effect. It's a better country. What a great thing.”

It is indeed impossible not to notice the number of African-American stories that are poised to dominate the serious movie season and the awards race that will follow.

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That includes the brutal slave drama that some are already calling the likeliest movie to take an Oscar, “12 Years a Slave,” directed by McQueen and being released by Weinstein's competitor, Fox Searchlight. That movie tells the true story of a free black man captured and forced into slavery.

Weinstein has three other movies telling black stories this year, “Fruitvale,” about a young black man shot needlessly by police on New Year's Eve in Oakland, Calif.; “Mandela,” about the South African liberation leader; and “The Butler,” the drama about an African-American who served several presidents in the White House.

Also read: Toronto: In ‘August: Osage County,’ Meryl Streep & Julia Roberts Get Laughs With Abuse

All of those make for a remarkable number of high profile movies about the black experience, after decades in Hollywood where that has been the exception, not the rule. “The Butler,” starring Forrest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey, has already been a relatively huge box office hit, taking in $91 million domestically.

Is there something in the zeitgeist, TheWrap asked Weinstein at the after-party of his movie, “August Osage County,” that is propelling these projects?

Weinstein wasn't sure.

“We didn't do it because of a cultural shift, we did it because we believed that these kinds of stories – it was the right time,” he said.

  • carla

    After 2013-2014, pfftt!! will go the “Black” Zeitgeist. While it is great to see these types of movies being made and distributed to a wider audience, it would also be fantastic – and also long overdue – to see a wider spectrum of movies about the Black experience – Black people are not just products of slavery. It would also be great to see Black actors and actresses not just limited to purely “black’ roles but considered for a wider range of roles that can showcase their skills in all areas of filmmaking genres. If only Hollywood studio executives, writers and producers would take their blinkers off. And where are all the Black writers?? C'mon guys and gals, pull your fingers out! You can't just rely on others to write your stories for you.

    And on the same note, it would be great if there could be some advancement or at least a bit more of an open door policy in the behind the scenes crew world which still remains almost 100% exclusively white. I've been fortunate enough to have been able to work in the industry for the last 6 years and I can count on one hand the number of people of Black origin that I, as a member of the White majority, have met in the last 6 years. Shameful.

    • John Ooko

      Well said Carla! I'm an engineer, originally from Kenya and has worked around the world. Reading about and observing the role that has been played by the African peoples of the world over the last 500 years or so bothered me. While not coming from the social science establishment, I was forced to write a book analyzing the events of history of my people – REFLECTING ON AMERICA'S FIRST BLACK PRESIDENT: An African Perspective of Global Events Critical to the Overall Black History.
      I have also done some film script works in the past, and I may well take up your challenge and take that to the next level in view of your very well pointed comment. All the best for you … and keep it up!

  • Jim

    I thought screenwriters did that.

    But then again, thank you Preisdent Bill Clinton for the movie, “Dave” starring Kevin Kline, though it's only one little scene.

  • Newyorkartist

    Sorry Harvey but the real issue is all of the films are films where a black actor is NEEDED. You couldn't do any of these films without black actors. It will be exciting when the industry starts to groom young black stars the way the groomed Chris Pine, Chris Hemsworth, Zac Efron, Andrew Garfeild, Anne Hathaway, Jennifer Lawerence, etc. Give black actors franchises, or co leads with well established stars to introduce them and their talents to a larger audience.

    It is very exciting that 12 Years a Slave, The Butler, and Fruitvale station were made because they are important films but progress will be made when more films like Flight with Denzel Washington happen. A complex flawed character with a well written screenplay and a plot that is not driven by race. Russell Crowe or Hugh Jackman could have played the role and it wouldn't have changed the story. Just like the many films starring white actors that could easily be played by black, asian or hispanic actors.

  • Necole

    Whats wrong with industry is that you have 2 many older Screenwriters who think the way he does. Hollywood needs young Screenwriter such as myself to transition the world back into 2013. There needs to be Mocha and not the division in race. I'm tired of Archie Bunkers and George Jeffersons displaying slavery films. What about Latinos? Asians? Bi-Multi racial people? That is the real reason why I have taken a break from tv & Films. Did we not learn anything from Fast & Furious 6.

  • govskeptic

    Baloney, it's about opportunist and DOLLARS. Too many unemployed and broke to
    continue this guilt trip being placed on the public by the pompous of Hollyweird..

  • Steven White

    And how does this benefit black people? That every time they go see a movie its about a black man being done wrong at the hands of evil racist whites. Being shown that they are hated and that it's impossible for them to succeed in this “racist society?” It doesnt . It benefits white liberals like this douche. They need racial division.

  • guihsewt

    Recently I was really, really low on money and debts were eating me from all sides! That was UNTIL I decided to make money.. on the internet! I went to surveymoneymaker dot net, and started filling in surveys for cash, and surely I've been far more able to pay my bills! I'm so glad, I did this.. – i1Wy

  • Joke

    These exec's in Hollywood have no one in their lives that tells them the true about the movie industry and it's ills, when it comes to people of colour.

    • Jo Holmes

      I can't believe Weinstein he is surely an idiot. If anything Obama has divided the country black white rich poor. I think Tyler perry deserves kudos.