Back in January we took the family to see “Hidden Figures”, a wonderful movie I might add. Before the movie we saw this trailer for another Octavia Spencer movie, “Gifted”.
With a gifted son, to say this caught our attention is an understatement. Like Mary, the main character in “Gifted”, my son is gifted in math. While I am pretty sure he never mentally multiplied 57 times 135 while being disciplined by a teacher, he did explain to me why the number 216 is divisible by 3 while I was tucking him into bed one night in Kindergarten. Like Mary’s uncle, my husband and I have chosen to send our son to public school in large part so he can have a normal life with friends and sports, more of the things he loves. We could send him to a school for gifted children and we have a very good one nearby so the storyline that Mary’s grandmother wants to take custody of her to do the exact same thing struck a deep chord with us.
My husband and I quickly agreed we needed to see “Gifted” but when? According to the trailer it was coming in April and a quick internet search on Fox Searchlight, the film’s distributor, revealed that it was scheduled to open in select theaters on April 7 and everywhere on April 12.
With a few more clicks I was able to retrieve showtimes for this Friday, April 7.
Setting aside previews and special screenings which of course are not available to the general population, as of Thursday afternoon only 5 theaters in all of Chicagoland are showing this on Friday. I also double checked on Fandango just to be sure I wasn’t missing something and that search yielded the same result. Look a little closer as to where these theaters are located. River North, Lincoln Park, Lakeview, Evanston and Lincolnshire, are all neighborhoods with high median incomes and house prices.
That’s right, no showings on the South Side, south suburbs and not even the western suburbs where I am less than 10 minutes away from two different large movie cineplexes. Also no showings near aforementioned gifted school.
I wondered if this was this just a Chicagoland phenomenon so I did the same search for the New York City area where I lived for over 15 years. There were a few more results which was expected since New York City is a much larger area in terms of population, but not that many overall. Again, the towns share the same similarities as their counterparts here, Pleasantville, Bronxville, both wealthy suburbs in Westchester County. Port Chester, which isn’t necessarily the most affluent suburb in Westchester but the theater is part of a restored and renovated marketplace steps from the Byram River which crosses over into Greenwich, Connecticut, one of the wealthiest towns in America. New York City locations include the Upper East Side, Kips Bay, Lincoln Center and Union Square and one in Brooklyn. There are also a few locations on Long Island.
“Gifted” is a movie in limited release which means at first the film is first played in only a select few markets before being rolled out to more locations. This is common for movies like “Gifted” which is considered an indie as it is being distributed by Fox Searchlight as opposed to the larger 20th Century Fox. But how are those locations determined? Some of it is based on population so NY and LA are often targets, but not here. Basically though, it boils down to where theater owners will sell the most seats, so profitability. From the little I have read on the topic it is a little bit more complicated than that due to relationships between distributors and theater chains but at the end of the day the decision can be distilled to that overall profitability parameter. So for “Gifted” it appears that more seats can be sold in wealthier areas.
The prevailing notion out there is gifted children generally come from wealthier households, homes with parents who have the time, talent and treasure to finance their activities and extracurriculars, to spend time with them on their homework and generally take a heightened interest in their schoolwork. This translates to higher performance on standardized tests, including those used for gifted program placement. Prominent educator David Berliner in his research found that “In every standardized achievement test whose scores we use to judge the quality of the education received by our children, family income strongly and significantly influences the mean scores obtained.” In short children from wealthier homes have access to better schools which lead to better educational outcomes compared to children in poverty.
There is quite a bit of research out there from a number of organizations including the NAGC on how truly gifted children who come from lower income families are overlooked and have a much harder time being identified as gifted. It’s definitely a problem and one that has negative implications including hindering the ability of those children to move out of poverty later in life.
I am not saying each theater in every affluent community in America has “Gifted” showtimes on Friday. That is not true at all. Strangely enough I did not find anything in Fairfield County, Connecticut’s Gold Coast. But I do find it simultaneously interesting and disappointing that the overwhelming majority of theaters that are showing “Gifted” are located in wealthy locations, the upscale portions of major metropolitan area or in malls/shopping complexes that attract upscale consumers.
Here is what I think the movie marketers are getting wrong. They are confusing the opportunities affluent children receive with true giftedness. Gifted children and the people who care about them reside in every zip code. They live everywhere, even in areas that will not generate high enough per theater average gross figures.
I think the movie does its part in highlighting the fact that gifted children do not necessarily come from privileged backgrounds. Based on the trailer, Mary and her uncle are not living large at all. Their home is small, the area is somewhat run-down. I believe this choice of theater selection is really a missed opportunity in attracting viewers from similar backgrounds who can really relate to the storyline.
Let’s also talk about the status of “Gifted” as an indie in limited market release as opposed to a more widely distributed major market release on Friday. It’s a thought provoking choice given the star power in this one. In addition to Octavia Spencer, “Gifted” stars Chris Evans and Jenny Slate. Also the plot is quite emotional as it involves a child caught in the middle of a heated custody battle between family members. In that sense the storyline has more similarities to a “Kramer vs. Kramer”. But then there is the title. Even one expert states in this preview article, “It won’t make lots of noise at the box office”. Who wants to see a movie about gifted children in an era of diminished importance on intelligence?
Well I do. But based on locations it looks like my husband and I will have to wait until next Wednesday or beyond. Our son has baseball and our daughter has a dance recital so we don’t have time to drive all over Chicagoland for a movie. Instead of “Gifted” the closest theater to us will have multiple screens devoted to the new Smurfs movie, “Boss Baby” and “The Case for Christ”.
I hope I am wrong on this and maybe someone can correct me and educate me on how movie placement decisions for limited releases like “Gifted” are really done. But with this data in my hand, my 8 years of experience in raising a gifted child and over 40 years experience in seeing how the world really works are all telling me something else.
I’ve written a number of pieces on parenting gifted children. If you liked this you may enjoy this post on why being gifted really does matter even when popular culture says it doesn’t.
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