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The Life of Films: Black People Watched “Traitor”! Sophisticated Urbanites Heart “Milk”!

By Guest Contributor AJ Christian, originally published at Televisual

The New York Times has an interesting interactive feature out that maps the top 50 rentals for 2009 based on the Netflix queues from a dozen US cities: New York, Boston, Chicago, Washington, Milwaukee, Dallas, Miami, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Altanta, Seattle and Denver. The list is a bit skewed because these are all fairly cosmopolitan areas — Benjamin Button and Changeling are at the top of the list — though that probably reflects what I assume is Netflix’s popularity in urban and suburban communities to begin with.

The list reminds us films have long lives. The press focuses almost solely on opening weekend box office returns and forgets films go to the rental market, DVD sales, pay-cable and OnDemand. Often these venues are great for films that couldn’t get people in theaters but are nevertheless intriguing or enjoyable. Movies by and about minorities sometimes can find audiences unwilling to shell out $6-$12+ for ticket (the gay film market has operated for years on this assumption).

I was surprised to see Traitor on the list — in the middle, but still before many popular Hollywood films. Traitor, a Don Cheadle-starrer about an alleged terrorist who may or may not secretly be working for the United States, made a paltry $27 million in theaters, just $23M in the U.S. Don Cheadle doesn’t have the Box Office pull of a Will Smith or Denzel Washington, despite his role in the Ocean’s Eleven films. Yet in the rental market, it seems black communities have taken a small liking to the film. The New York Times‘ map has it markedly popular in Atlanta — with a strong presence in the middle class/Morehouse area inside the perimeter — in D.C. and in neighborhoods like Bed-Stuy in New York.

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