Sony Producer Says Black Actors Shouldn’t Have Lead Roles Because International Audiences Are Racist

Emails between a producer and Sony chair Michael Lynton discussed that idea while talking about the financial performance of Denzel Washington’s The Equalizer.

Hannibal Hanschke / Reuters

An unnamed producer wrote in an email to Sony chairman Michael Lynton that films with black actors — using Denzel Washington in The Equalizer as an example — don’t perform well because the international audiences are “racist,” according to documents found in the Sony hack.

The producer suggested that the two-time Oscar winner should not star in big-budget films as the international audience will not accept him in a leading role because of his race.

“I believe that the international motion picture audience is racist — in general pictures with an African American lead don’t play well overseas. When Sony made Equalizer they had to know that Denzel opens pics domestically, however the international gross would be somewhat limited,” the producer wrote in an Oct. 27 e-mail.

Lynton wrote back asking if he was saying The Equalizer “shouldn’t have been made or that African American actors should be excluded?”

“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 responded. “Casting him is saying we’re ok with a double if the picture works,” the producer wrote, using a baseball analogy.

Washington is “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,” the producer wrote.

The producer also wrote that he or she hoped the statement wasn’t “inappropriate or provocative.”

The Equalizer grossed about $191 million worldwide. Approximately $90 million was earned overseas. The producer said this figure would have been higher if a black man wasn’t in the lead role.

According to the emails, a sequel to the movie was set for 2017, but would be “a double, with a remote chance of a home run.”

Calls to Denzel Washington’s publicist were not immediately returned.

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Mary Ann Georgantopoulos is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Mary Ann Georgantopoulos at maryann.georgantopoulos@buzzfeed.com.
 
 

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