Last year, 70% of theatrical revenue came from overseas markets. Hispanics — who represent 17% of the U.S. population — bought one out of every four movie tickets in this country. And in 2013, minorities made up 46% of U.S. moviegoing audiences.

Promoting diversity

Fabian Castro, Senior Vice President of Multicultural Marketing, Universal Pictures
Fabian Castro, Senior Vice President of Multicultural Marketing, Universal Pictures

Universal was one of the first studios to establish a marketing team dedicated to multicultural audiences. In the process, this team has helped sharpen our approach to diverse entertainment content.

"We want to put out an invitation, one that’s culturally relevant and organic to the way our audiences consume their media," says Fabian Castro, Senior Vice President of Multicultural Marketing at Universal Pictures. "And at the very heart of the stories we deliver is a commitment to including diverse voices."

Fabian leads this team, whose marketing efforts are geared toward not only attracting multicultural viewers, but also promoting diverse content and talent in our movies. "Many of our films actually help to define popular culture," he says. "And when that’s the case, they need to tell stories that reflect and identify with our diverse audiences."

Director James Wan (left) and actor Vin Diesel on the set of Furious 7, released earlier this year.
Director James Wan (left) and actor Vin Diesel on the set of Furious 7, released earlier this year.

Creating with diversity

The broad appeal of the Fast & Furious film franchise is a high-profile example of how culture and creative forces can align. In 2013, Fast & Furious 6 grossed more than $788 million worldwide, driving strong attendance across all demographics.  The incredibly diverse Fast & Furious "family" features strong male and female characters across ethnicities in lead roles, ensuring the audience can see themselves in the story.

Making films that appeal to a rapidly growing multicultural audience — in the United States and around the world — requires authentic storytelling that reflects moviegoers’ experiences. To capture these ideas authentically, we champion diversity behind the camera through partnerships with minority filmmakers and by cultivating opportunities for emerging minority screenwriters to gain invaluable experience in the industry.

A scene from Get on Up, the 2014 biopic about singer James Brown.
A scene from Get on Up, the 2014 biopic about singer James Brown.

In 2014, Universal Pictures launched a partnership with prominent African American filmmaker Will Packer following a successful collaboration on Ride Along. A sequel to Ride Along is due in 2016.

Also last year, we released Get on Up, a biopic about legendary entertainer James Brown. In August 2015, we will release Straight Outta Compton — produced by Dr. Dre and Ice Cube — about N.W.A, a seminal group of the Southern California rap scene in the 1980s. In 2016, director Malcolm D. Lee will bring back a homegrown Universal Pictures hit series with the release of The Best Man Wedding.

"The multicultural audience keeps on getting stronger and stronger, to the point where diverse moviegoers actually are our mainstream audience," says Fabian. "That creates a lot of exciting opportunities, not just in how we market films but also in how we produce that content and have unique voices telling the stories."

Cultivating Tomorrow’s Talent — Today

As an up-and-coming screenwriter, Chandus Jackson was looking to make the leap from indie shorts to big screen blockbusters. One hurdle standing in his way: access to the studio system — a big obstacle for anyone, but one that’s especially challenging for women and minorities looking to break into the industry.

Chandus Jackson, Emerging Writers Fellowship graduate

Chandus’ odds of writing the next summer smash are a bit better now. He’s one of five writers selected from among nearly 800 applicants for Universal Pictures’ Emerging Writers Fellowship (EWF). Launched in 2013, the program identifies and develops writers whose voices are crucial to the future of our studio and industry. The writers are experienced, with diverse and distinct voices, and in many cases have received formal training and some professional writing opportunities. But they have not yet had a feature-length script produced through a major studio.

"These writers have been working with passion and commitment for years. They just need that one opportunity to write for a major studio," says Heather Washington, who manages the EWF. Starting in May 2014, Chandus had the opportunity to work on-site at Universal. Along with learning the inner workings of a studio, the fellows connect with executives, industry experts, and representatives who might help them establish a successful career in film.

"These writers are fully immersed in the studio and the creative process," Heather says. "They’re here every day, building relationships within and beyond the program."

Fellows participate in workshops, development meetings, and networking events. Each is also assigned two mentors — from a host of influential producers, directors, and writers — to help them complete an intense series of writing assignments. Chandus is working alongside Chris Morgan, who most recently wrote the screenplay for Furious 7, and David Goyer, writer on the upcoming Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Chandus says that working creatively under specific expectations and tight deadlines has honed his skills. "I’ve learned to become more strategic as a writer, vetting my own material to see how it will fit with what the studio is looking for," he says. And writers get to cultivate their storytelling chops as they gain a prized Hollywood asset: exposure. "We’re helping them develop personal networks to showcase their talent, style, strengths, and skills so they’ll be considered for future studio assignments," Heather says.

Before the fellowship even finished, Chandus had already become a program success story. He’s signed with a literary manager and agent to jump-start the next phase of his career.

Chandus Jackson
Chandus Jackson (left) visits with Furious 7 screenwriter Chris Morgan, one of his mentors in the Emerging Writers Fellowship program.