Diversity’s Big Bite of the Box Office

With $500 million in ticket sales and counting, Black Panther’s startling success is the latest evidence of the financial power of inclusion.

In the end, it may have taken a comic-book story to drive home the point, at least in Hollywood, on the power of diversity.

For those who haven't heard, Black Panther shattered box-office records over the four-day holiday weekend, with a $242 million domestic take that ranked as the largest President’s Day weekend opening in Hollywood history—and the biggest February opening of all time. The movie, coming off another comic superhero franchise starring a woman, trails only Star Wars: The Force Awakens for the biggest four-day opening weekend ever and has generated more than $500 million in worldwide ticket sales in just one week. It also proved to any doubters left that diversity—whether in culture, entertainment, politics, or business—leads to stronger performance. 

“This proves wrong Hollywood’s view that an all-black movie would be too small to attract a mass audience,” says Andrés Tapia, senior client partner and leader of global diversity and inclusion efforts at Korn Ferry. “The innovation and creativity that gets unleashed by appealing to more diverse audiences through more diverse creators and talent is interesting to a heck of a lot of people.” Case in point: Caucasians and Hispanics made up a majority of Black Panther’s audience.

There’s a large body of evidence showing the positive business impact of diversity and inclusion. Korn Ferry research shows that in the initial stages of a project, homogenous teams outperform diverse ones. But, as diverse teams learn how to incorporate different perspectives, experiences, backgrounds, thinking, and communication styles, over time they significantly outperform homogenous ones. McKinsey & Company research found a correlation between diversity and financial performance as well, with companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity producing financial returns 35% of the national industry medians. 

For organizations and leaders, diversity and inclusion can help attract top talent, which, in turn, can tap into a wider array of consumers’ tastes and behaviors, opening up new avenues for growth. Black Panther’s success is proof. The film’s cast not only includes some of Hollywood’s biggest stars—Lupita Nyong’o, Michael B. Jordan, Angela Bassett, and Forest Whitaker among them—but it also attracted a broader audience demographic than other films in the same genre. “New talent leads to new ideas which leads to new products which leads to new consumers,” Tapia says. 

Entertainment industry observers were quick to hail Black Panther’s box-office performance as proof of Hollywood’s newfound embrace of diversity and inclusion. But with #OscarsSoWhite still a viral meme after being started three years ago, and a news cycle that has shined a harsh spotlight on the industry’s pay inequality and sexual harassment issues, much work still must be done in Hollywood. Just as one female C-suite executive or one black board member doesn’t make an organization diverse, one movie doesn’t suddenly mean Hollywood is inclusive. As with any industry or brand, it takes a sustained, concerted effort to have real impact.  

“Consistency is a sign of integrity,” Tapia says. “No industry or organization can be sporadically inclusive.”

Black Panther is a good start. But there’s still a long way to go.