Bird box took the world by storm in the past week, being a film most of us hadn’t heard of before seeing the memes about it on Twitter. I watched Birdbox with my sister the day after it came out on Netflix. We were hooked within the first 10 mins, and the first half of the movie was exhilarating. However, as the film continued to its conclusion, my sister and I were left disappointed. What then surprised me was seeing the response from people on Twitter over the next few days, with my timeline being flooded with memes about the film.
It was my engagement with people’s reactions online that made me love a film that I initially found unsatisfying. When watching Birdbox, I found it to be a film with a great concept and cast that merely failed to reach its full potential. However, the memes that arose from the film made me see the film through rose tinted glasses. Meme after meme, I began to like the film more and more. I would encourage friends to go and watch the film once they’d ask if it was worth seeing, just so that they could understand how funny these memes were. FOMO had spread like a disease, with many people succumbing to peer pressure and watching the film just so that they wouldn’t be left out of the jokes.
It therefore came as no surprise when it was announced that Bird Box has achieved Netflix’s highest number of streams in it’s first week. It is interesting, that a film that received mixed reviews from critics, has been so successful commercially. It is as if meme culture has created a ‘post-critic’ atmosphere, a film’s success is now measured by it’s potential to go viral on social media. Nevertheless, a lot of films and TV shows have been caught up in the fast-paced world that is meme culture, so why is it that Bird Box managed to do so well?
Following Netflix’s announcement that Bird Box has had the best first seven days ever for a Netflix film, @Skylar_Writer pointed out that this is due to the role that Black Twitter had in propelling it from a movie that didn’t really have much going for it, to one that has broken records. It was @Skylar_Writer’s response that got me thinking about the role that Black Twitter has in creating cultural phenomenon. When looking at the memes, most of them were created by black users, had black actors within the memes, or used a language that originated from black culture.
I know that when my sister and I were watching the film, one thing that made us excited to get into it was when we first saw Trevant Rhodes and Milton ‘Lil Rel’ Howery appear on the screen. These actors appeared in ‘Moonlight’ and ‘Get Out’ (respectively), two critically and commercially successful films with Black Directors and a (predominantly) black cast. With Rhodes especially, I hadn’t seen him in anything since Moonlight so I was incredibly excited when I noticed that his character was becoming an integral part of the film. When relaying back to friends my opinions on Bird Box, it was the performances of Rhodes and Howery which I claimed were good parts of the film.
Other black users also watched the film for the same reason, and from this created memes and remade scenarios from the movie, lifting it from something that was dark, ominous, and serious, to a cultural phenomenon that could now be laughed at online. One thing that I love about black culture is the ability to make anything a source for laughter. When I was younger, this was something that was experienced in black-dominated spaces, but the rise of social media has meant that this element of black culture is something that can be viewed by outsiders. Through likes and retweets, things said by black people to their black followers end up spreading outside the confines of Black Twitter, and subsequently gain global prominence. It should come as no surprise then that Black Twitter has a key role in swaying public perception, setting trends, and having cultural influence. The power of a unified black voice is a force to be reckoned with on social media, how the community feels about one thing can incite an international reaction.
This is not the first time Black Twitter has supported black creatives and given them financial success. Black Panther was released earlier this year and was labelled by Forbes as being the most-Tweeted about film in 2018. This success translated into real results, Black Panther was the first movie since Avatar to top the weekend box offices 5 times in a row Black Twitter supported Black Panther because of its diverse crew and positive representation of Black Africans. Through this support, they ensured that Black Panther would be in the history books. And in the last few days of 2018, Black Twitter has done it again with Bird Box. Through their backing and content creation, Bird Box has made history, something nearly all of the critics failed to anticipate.
Black Twitter is important in our current cultural climate, and large corporations like Netflix are recognising this. The success of Bird Box shows us how black voices really do have the power to make a difference.
Written by Timi Sotire