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Black Panther crushed overseas sales projections. Can we stop saying “black films don’t travel”?

Black Panther didn’t just obliterate box office records with its massive opening weekend. It may, finally, crush a pernicious Hollywood myth: that “black films don’t travel.”

You’d think the myth — which suggests that movies telling stories about black people, with black actors in the lead roles, aren’t interesting to many people outside of North America — would have died by now. But it persists, not just in the expectations that movie studio executives set for “black films,” but also in what they’re willing to invest in those films.

Black Panther, though, may have changed the game.

The “black films don’t travel” myth has been disproved before. But it’s remarkably sticky anyhow.

There are plenty of examples of “black films” — movies telling stories about black people, with black actors in the lead roles — that did just fine overseas, from Blade and Bad Boys to Ray and Creed. The 2015 film Straight Outta Compton, about N.W.A., was a hit not just domestically (where it brought in about $161 million) but also abroad (more than $40 million). In 2016, Hidden Figures, about three black women NASA scientists in the 1960s, made $165.5 million in the US and an additional $48.8 million overseas.

And Moonlight, the coming-of-age art film with an almost entirely black cast that eventually won Best Picture for that year, actually wound up making more money abroad than in the US — upward of $37 million of its eventual $65 million total box office gross came from the international box office.

Combined with its US ticket sales, that’s more than $400 million over the Presidents Day weekend, putting Black Panther’s launch among the biggest four-day opening weekends of all time, just behind Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

And yet, the estimates were much lower. Dave Hollis, who is president of theatrical distribution at Disney (which owns Marvel Studios and distributes its movies), told Deadline Hollywood that “it just didn’t seem possible” to the studio that Black Panther would overtake the Avengers movies.

Box office analysts had forecast that the movie would make about $165 million in North America in its opening weekend; the real number — which topped $218 million — blew that out of the water.

But going into the weekend, international ticket sales were still a wildcard. “The big unknown is how Black Panther will fare overseas, where Hollywood films with a black cast are perceived to face challenges,” the Hollywood Reporter explained three days before the film opened on February 15.

Insiders at Disney were expecting the film to garner $75 million to $115 million in ticket sales abroad on opening weekend. And that’s a far cry from the $169 million in international ticket sales that it actually picked up.

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