I have an awesome job. I market movies at Disney. Some days it feels like a job. Most days I pinch myself and think, “I get paid to do this?”
With the acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm, almost every movie Disney releases is a big movie – and by big I mean a global event movie. In the past ten months, the studio has released Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Zootopia, The Jungle Book, Captain America Civil War, and Finding Dory. Three of the five movies have well surpassed $1 billion in box office revenue. The other two are hovering just below the billion-dollar mark. (Yes, that is billion, with a B).
Big “tent pole” movies are the studio’s bread and butter. It is a strategy that is not without risk, but with the strength of brands the studio owns, the risk is mitigated and in recent years the strategy has proven very successful.
So when Disney releases a film like Queen of Katwe – the story of an impoverished Ugandan girl whose life is changed after discovering the game of Chess – we should take notice.
There are two reasons why film studios or producers make movies: 1) They believe it will make money. 2) They believe in the story and, personally, want to see the movie. In the case of Queen of Katwe, it is the latter. There will be no Queen of Katwe dolls or dresses sold in Disney Stores. There will be no rides at Walt Disney World based on the Katwe experience. It is a passion piece by the filmmakers and the studio.
Major Hollywood studios are shying away from “small” films like Queen of Katwe. The reason is simple: there is far more treasure to be had in big blockbuster films that can reach a global market. So these films are often left to independent production companies, whose own economic model is under stress due to the proliferation of media consumption options audiences have today. Furthermore, independent production companies don’t have the marketing and distribution reach of the major studios, which means when the films do get made fewer people are likely to see them. So when a major studio invests the time and resources into films with messages about hope, faith, and perseverance - with little financial upside for the studio - I think it is important to support the film.
But there is another reason why Queen of Katwe is an important movie – and I am speaking to a specific audience here. Queen of Katwe portrays a Christian man working at Christian ministry in an honest and respectful way. I hear so many Christians bemoan Hollywood as liberal propagating “anti-Christian” values. Well, here is a film by a major Hollywood studio, Disney, that portrays a man (the role played by David Oyelowo) living out the convictions of his faith. It is subtle, sure, but filmmakers could have easily left out the man’s faith altogether and simply made him a coach, but they didn’t. If you want to see characters that reflect your values moved out of the “faith-based” sub-genre of films and into the mainstream, then you should support films that do that. You should go to the theater and see Queen of Katwe.
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A WRITER AND TRAVELER KEEPING THE FAITH IN LOS ANGELES