Filmmaker fears black films will suffer from studio budget cuts

Three months ago, everything was falling into place for director Deon Taylor and his Hidden Empire Film Group.

Following the success of his 2019 films, “The Intruder” and “Black and Blue,” Taylor was looking forward to the release of his upcoming psychological thriller, “Fatale.” Then the coronavirus crisis hit.

“Coming off of ‘The Intruder,’ coming out of Black and Blue,” we were like, OK, here we go. And all of a sudden, it just was like, everything stops,” Taylor told me during a recent Zoom interview about “Fatale” and how the COVID-19 outbreak is affecting African-American journalists.

Taylor grew up in Gary, Indiana, and played professional basketball with the NBA Entertainment League before launching a movie career. His earlier films include the horror thriller “Chain Letter” (2010), “Meet the Blacks” (2016) and “Traffik” (2018).

“We truly are an independent company,” Taylor said about his Hidden Empire banner. “We finance every movie we make. We’ve been fortunate enough to make films that studios want to buy and put out wide.”

With each movie, he’s managed to cast bigger names. “Traffik” featured Paula Patton and Omar Epps; “The Intruder” starred Michael Ealy, Meagan Good and Dennis Quaid; and “Black and Blue” featured Tyrese Gibson and Oscar-nominee Naomie Harris (“Moonlight”).

“Fatale” stars two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank (“Boys Don’t Cry” and “Million Dollar Baby”), along with Michael Ealy, Mike Colter, Damaris Lewis and Geoffrey Owens. The drama is produced by Taylor’s Hidden Empire partner Roxanne Taylor and is executive produced by billionaire Robert F. Smith.

Lionsgate acquired North American distribution rights for the film last year, and scheduled it for a June 19, release. Then, as theaters shuttered because of the coronavirus pandemic, “Fatale” was pulled from the release schedule.

Taylor said Lionsgate had committed to a “giant marketing campaign” for the thriller before the global health crisis unfolded. Earlier this month, the studio announced the film will now move to an Oct. 30 release date.

Taylor said before the COVID-19 outbreak, 2020 was on pace to be a banner year for black films.

“We just started getting a lot of us writers going and black directors going and black producers going, like literally, this year was becoming almost historic, where you see a lot of us working,” he said.

With the box office moribund, and studios cutting costs, he fears projects from black creatives will be sidelined.

“We’ll probably be the first to get cut off of those budgets,” he said. “When you’re talking about what they’re going to make, they’re going to tend to lean towards the hundred million dollar tent-pole film that’s going to make a bunch of money, versus that mid-film that’s $15- to $30 million with a black lead.”

Taylor sat down for this and other Zoom interviews to “check on” black journalists amid the coronavirus pandemic. He said the black press has always done stories on his films, even when the mainstream media and the Hollywood trades ignored his work.

While some African-American stars have been accused of ignoring the black press once they reach a certain level of success, Taylor said that won’t happen with him.

“Before there was an “Intruder,” before there was a “Black and Blue,” before anybody was offering me $50 million films, there were people like yourself that wrote small articles about what I was doing,” he explained, “For that, I’ve always been like, that’s the foundation which I grow from.”

This article, written by Anita Bennett, originally appeared at urbanhollywood411.com.