The color of money: Hollywood diversifies

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For the action thriller "Collateral," DreamWorks executives plastered African-American actor Jamie Foxx's mug on bus shelters and billboards in major urban markets. The ads were more notable, though, for the face that didn't appear: superstar Tom Cruise's.

Studio executives also scheduled back-to-back premieres-one in Hollywood, the other in Harlem-as part of a strategy to draw minority movie-goers.

"We realized we had the chance to bring in an ethnic audience that wouldn't necessarily show up first weekend for a Tom Cruise movie," said Terry Press, head of marketing at DreamWorks.

It paid off: The film launched at $25 million, strong for an R-rated picture, and has since pulled in $70 million in box office. It is expected to more than double that take internationally.

waking up

Like DreamWorks, Hollywood's film studios are waking up to the potential of the multicultural market, increasingly assembling diverse casts for their movies and being rewarded with fat box office receipts. Marketers, meanwhile, are capitalizing on the casting choices by targeting media and promotions at ethnic fans.

Hispanics alone spent $1.5 billion at the box office in 2002, according to the Motion Picture Association of America, a number expected to double by 2012. In major markets such as Los Angeles and New York, Latinos make up 55% of opening weekend audiences. Nationally, African-Americans and Asians combined make up nearly 14% of moviegoers, according to Nielsen Cinema Audience Reports.

adults catching up

While young-skewing movies such as "2 Fast 2 Furious" and the "Scream" franchise feature mixed-race casts, adult fare is now catching onto the diversity trend. Some upcoming examples include the Fox buddy comedy "Taxi," with Queen Latifah and Jimmy Fallon; New Line's "Blade: Trinity" with Wesley Snipes and Jessica Biel; "After the Sunset" with Pierce Brosnan and Salma Hayek; and Paramount's "Sahara" with Matthew McConaughey and Penelope Cruz.

"If the movie is a melting pot, it attracts a melting-pot audience," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations Co., a box-office-tracking firm. "If it has cross-generational, cross-cultural elements, the results can be pretty powerful at the box office."

The talent combinations have to be right for the project, and the stars must be topical to their audience, said Simon Millar, Ice Cube's manager at The Firm in Los Angeles. "The question we ask, too, is, `Who do we partner with to make the movie an international draw?"' Mr. Millar said. "There aren't many ethnic actors that have worldwide leverage."

Not only does diverse casting make a movie culturally relevant, it gives the studio additional media outlets to hype the film, said Amorette Jones, president-marketing at Arenas Entertainment, a film distributor, talent management and marketing consulting company specializing in the Latino market. "The Spanish-language media is so hungry for material, and these movies give them something to embrace."

Waiving face space

"There's so much crossover now, with white teens watching BET and African-Americans going to Hispanic festivals, that you're hitting people who will be interested in the subject matter and the stars if you're in those places," said Pam Levine, co-president of marketing at News Corp.'s Fox.

Sometimes the campaign is the same as in the general market, and sometimes it's tweaked to push to the forefront a star popular with an ethnic audience but who hasn't broken into the mainstream.

And in a town of big egos, that may take big star buy-in. In DreamWork's case, Mr. Cruise blessed the marketing approach, Ms. Press said, waiving his contractual right to be the only face of the movie's ad campaign.

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