Understanding the concerns of Black cinema goers as lockdown eases

Posted on July 15, 2020 by Anthony Andrews

Categories: General

With discussions over the safety of cinemas reopening in a Covid-19 era still ongoing, we’re delighted to share We Are Parable’s research on audience confidence in returning to the cinema. 

We hope the data will prompt conversation on what more needs to be done to protect and safeguard Black, Asian and other ethnic audiences. Anthony Andrews from We Are Parable presents their findings.

As we write this, cinemas are beginning to re-open after over three months of being closed due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. However, as you might expect, it’s anything but ‘business as usual’. Social distancing (albeit downgraded from two metres to ‘one metre plus’ – make of that ambiguity what you will) means that there will be new measures brought into cinema venues, such as the introduction of PPE, less screenings to enable deep cleaning, contactless payment and staggered seating. The cinema experience might have been missed by millions, but upon its return, there are new elements that film enthusiasts will have to now get used to.

As an organisation who revels in the power of live experience within cinemas, we were, of course, concerned about how we were now going to pivot our business model to one that does not allow venues to have any additional ‘live’ experiences – even something as relatively straightforward as a Q&A was going to be, for now, out of the question. It’s a challenge that we constantly find ourselves going back to.

However, a bigger concern for us was the need to ensure that our audiences were safe when we finally return to creating events in the cinema again. As I’ve mentioned in other pieces, 85% of our audience are Black, and with the unavoidable news that Black, Asian and other ethnic groups are up to four times more likely to die from Covid-19, we felt like additional questions needed to be answered about safeguarding our audiences.

However, after finding out that there wasn’t much dialogue about how Black, Asian and other ethnic audiences feel about returning to the cinema as lockdown begins to ease, we were subsequently commissioned by the BFI and the Film Audience Network to look into the confidence levels of these audiences.

Over the last two weeks in June, we collated just over 1100 respondents (40% of them coming from a Black, Asian or other ethnic group) to answer a ten question survey that was distributed across our and the Film Hub networks. In the interest of brevity, I will focus on the questions we asked in the survey which I believe provide us with the most amount of insight. Here are the results.

Frequency of cinema visits before lockdown.

We asked our respondents to estimate how many times, pre-lockdown, they had been to the cinema in the past 12 months. It was shown that 27% of younger, Black respondents (16-30) reported they had gone around 6-9 times, which was 8% higher than average. White respondents, on the other hand, over-indexed on going to the cinema more than 12 times in a calendar year.

Infographic from We Are Parable audience survey showing results for the frequency of cinema visits

Likelihood of returning to the cinema.

We then asked the respondents about their likelihood of going back to the cinema once lockdown begins to ease. Here, we started to see significantly more uncertainty from Black, Asian and other ethnic groups than from their White counterparts. For example, 19% of White respondents said they were not sure about returning, compared to 31% of Black, Asian and other ethnic group respondents.

Similar differences were seen when looking at younger and older Black audiences as a cohort, in comparison to their White counterparts. A quarter of younger (that is, 16-29) Black respondents were not sure, with younger White audiences at 17%. As the age of respondents increases, it seems, so did the level of uncertainty, with 38% of Black respondents over the age of 30 saying they were not sure on returning, against less than a quarter of White respondents of the same age.

Infographic from We Are Parable audience survey showing results for likelihood of returning to the cinema

When exactly will audiences go back?

Respondents were then asked about what month they were planning to go back to cinemas, and the uncertainty amongst respondents from Black, Asian and other ethnic groups seen in earlier questions started to emerge here.

Only 15% of Black, Asian and other ethnic group respondents said they would consider returning to cinemas in July, as opposed to 23% of White audiences. Interestingly, over a third of respondents from Black, Asian and other ethnic groups stated that they were willing to wait until 2021 or were unsure when they would return, which suggests that there is a lack of conviction about returning to cinemas too quickly.

Again, age played a factor in this question; although there was more enthusiasm about going back to cinemas in July among younger (16-30) respondents, the difference among Black and White respondents was still prevalent, with Black audiences being 6% less likely to return in July.

Infographic from We Are Parable audience survey showing results for when audiences are likely to return to cinemas

How confident are audiences in returning back to cinemas?

Overall, there is less confidence from Black, Asian and other ethnic groups compared to their White counterparts. Another interesting observation was that the confidence of respondents decreased with age. In fact, almost two thirds of older, Black respondents were not confident, not sure or not at all confident of returning to cinemas, as opposed to just under half of White respondents.

Infographic from We Are Parable audience survey showing results for audience confidence in returning to cinemas

What are some of the main concerns for audiences upon their return to cinemas?

Regardless of age, for Black, Asian and other ethnic respondents, a lack of information about how cinemas will enforce social distancing is a key concern. For this cohort, it was twice as important than it was for their White counterparts. When looking at Black audiences specifically, older Black respondents were twice as likely to select ‘lack of information’ than younger Black respondents; however the latter are still much more concerned than White respondents who are the same age.

Infographic from We Are Parable audience survey showing results for main concern of audiences when returning to cinemas

Infographic from We Are Parable audience survey showing results for main concern of audiences when returning to cinemas

What does this mean for cinemas and Black audiences?

What the research is clearly telling us is that although Black audiences do over-index for the amount of times that they go to the cinema, they still feel a great deal of uncertainty when returning back to the cinema, with a significant number of respondents stating they would rather wait until 2021 or until a vaccine is released. Confidence of these audiences is low across the board and there is a perception that they are not receiving enough information to reassure them that cinemas are safe.

We know that there is information being provided to cinemas to give to their audiences to tell them how their cinema environment and experience has changed in light of staying safe during the pandemic. However, we believe that there needs to be a concerted effort to provide tailored communications specifically to vulnerable groups, such as the Black, Asian and other ethnic groups used for this study.

In order to carry out this research, we took a massive leap outside of our comfort zone. We’re not data scientists, we’re film exhibitors, after all. But we are also an organisation who see our audiences as the most important factor of doing what we do. Our experiences only work because of them. Therefore, what we intended to do with this research was to start the conversation about protecting and safeguarding Black audiences. Hopefully, we’ve done that and this goes some way to creating change as we return to cinemas and start producing events again.

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