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The Gift That Keeps on Giving – Leaked Sony Email Challenges Denzel Washington’s Overseas Box Office Appeal

The Gift That Keeps on Giving - Leaked Sony Email Challenges Denzel Washington's Overseas Box Office Appeal

Another early “Christmas gift” from the Guardians of the Peace – the group claiming to be behind the hacking and publication of, in some cases, damning Sony Pictures email correspondence; emails that have shone a rather unflattering light on the studio, and Hollywood in general, I’d say. Although, we really shouldn’t be surprised by any of what’s been revealed, quite frankly. Suspicions of inside workings of the business have only been confirmed, assuming you were in doubt. 

Let’s just call these email leaks the gifts that keep on giving…  

This one comes courtesy of Radar, who claim witness to Sony correspondence challenging Denzel Washington’s international box office appeal – speaking to a long-standing self-fulfilling prophecy that says black films, or films with black stars, don’t sell overseas; an industry belief that we’ve repeatedly disputed with facts on this blog, even though it seems to continue to thrive.   

To wit, courtesy of Radar:

– According to emails from the execs, two-time Oscar winner Washington should not be cast in films that will get play overseas — because he is black. The unbelievable e-mail thread was sent soon after Sony released Washington’s latest film The Equalizer… 

– The producer who sent the e-mail to Sony Chairman Michael Lynton said he or she hoped the incredible statement wasn’t “inappropriate or provocative.” But the producer — whose name was erased from the emails — suggested Sony should avoid casting black actors to appeal to an international market that the producer deemed “racist.”

– “No, I am not saying The Equalizer should not have been made or that African American actors should not have been used (I personally think Denzel is the best actor of his generation),” the producer wrote. “Casting him is saying we’re ok with a double if the picture works,” the producer wrote, using a baseball analogy. “He’s reliable at the domestic [box office], safe, but has not had a huge success in years. I believe whenever possible the non event pictures, extra ‘bets’ should have a large inherent upside and be made for the right price. Here there isn’t a large inherent upside.”

– “I believe that the international motion picture audience is racist — in general pictures with an African American lead don’t play well overseas,” the producer wrote. “But Sony sometimes seems to disregard that a picture must work well internationally to both maximize returns and reduce risk, especially pics with decent size budgets.”


I should note that the $55 million (budget) “Equalizer,” released this year, did go on to gross over $191 million globally, with about 50% of that total coming from overseas markets. With those figures, it’s puzzling to argue Washington’s box office appeal (also keep in mind that this was an R-rated movie, which limits its audience, and it wasn’t exactly his best film). It’s also Denzel’s 4th highest grossing movie ever, as well as the 27th highest grossing film of 2014, out of over 660 thus far (all data according to Box Office Mojo).

Broader, who would’ve thought that a film like “12 Years a Slave” would gross over $131 million in overseas box office alone. I recall, prior to the film’s release, there was some concern that it wouldn’t find an audience outside of the USA, because of the specific story it tells. Yet its non-USA box office was almost 3 times what it made in the States.

Apparently, according to the leaked emails, studios prefer that 65% of a high-profile film’s box office come from outside the USA. “The Equalizer” managed 47%, so I suppose, from their POV, the film wasn’t quite the success (overseas anyway) they hoped it would be. And to explain that 18 point disparity, the producer in the above quotes blamed Washington’s skin color. We simply can’t be certain of whether the film would’ve earned 65% of its box office overseas if a white actor starred in the film. Even actors like Tom Cruise, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and other “A” list white actors of a certain age (let’s say over 50) aren’t consistent box office performers, domestic and overseas.  

In fact, Will Smith, a black actor, is one of a small handful of actors who can claim near-box office dominance domestically and overseas. Even his domestic “misses” perform very well overseas.

I’m really curious to know who this mystery producer is, who seems so resolute with his/her assertions. If the name was erased, it could very be someone with a lot to lose if his/her name was made public. But if Radar has the scoop on any replies from Sony chairman Michael Lynton, who the above emails were sent to, the website doesn’t share.

Ultimately, this has been a nightmare for the studio…

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