Five years ago, the one-two punch of mega-hits Black Panther and Aquaman changed the game for cinematic blockbusters starring heroes of color. And that seismic shift is being reflected in this summer’s box-office returns. First, Vin Diesel and his multicultural Fast and Furious familia raced to pole position over the May 19 weekend. Those speed racers were followed by Halle Bailey’s star turn in The Little Mermaid, which swam to a $118 million first-place finish over the Memorial Day holiday. And last weekend, Shameik Moore’s Miles Morales swung Across the Spider-Verse to land at the top the box office with a massive $120 million gross — the best opening weekend of any movie so far this summer.
That trend continues with the just-released Transformers: Rise of the Beasts; the seventh installment in the Transformers series is also the franchise’s most diverse entry yet, with In the Heights‘s Anthony Ramos and Project Power‘s Dominique Fishback playing the Brooklyn-based humans tapped to fight alongside Hasbro’s giant transforming robots. The movie grossed $25 million on its opening day, indicating that Rise of the Beasts will likely become the fourth blockbuster in a row starring actors of color to nab the top spot at the box office. Furthermore the top three films in the country — Transformers, Spider-Verse and The Little Mermaid — will all star Black and Latino heroes, a too-rare occurrence in Hollywood.
And Rise of the Beasts director Steven Caple Jr. is well aware of how impressive a feat that is. “This is one of the first times where we’ve had it back to back to back,” the filmmaker tells Yahoo Entertainment. “Usually when you’re Black or brown, you get one or two movies a year. But for us to have The Little Mermaid come out one week, Across the Spider-Verse the next and Transformers the next is crazy!”
Watch our interviews with the stars and creators of Transformers: Rise of the Beasts on YouTube:
Ramos and Fishback also recognize the weight of the moment. “It’s monumental looking at the poster and seeing Dominique and I there together with these massive robots,” Ramos says. “We’ve never seen characters like us in this movie, so it feels like a blessing. And also both of us being from Brooklyn and being friends before we made this film. It feels really special, man.”
The move to diversify the Transformers movies after six films starring white leads — including Shia LaBeouf, Mark Wahlberg and Hailee Steinfeld — was led by Caple, who says that’s always a priority anytime he steps behind the camera. “For any film that I touch, I want the people in it to reflect who I look like and the world I live in,” explains the Cleveland-born filmmaker, who previously helmed Creed II and The Land. “So for me to dive into this project and cast that way across the board feels like it reflects who we are. And for this Transformers film to have that opportunity on this platform to do so is important to me.”
“It’s not only appropriate, but it’s also part of the story,” echoes Rise of the Beasts producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura, nothing how the film is about different groups of humans — and robots — learning to work together for a common purpose. “That was a conscious thing that the started out with in the script, because we’re uniting cultures in this movie.”
Not for nothing, but Rise of the Beasts also features some pointed commentary on the way minority characters — specifically Black women — are undervalued. In the film, Fishback’s Elena Wallace is a museum employee who specializes in ancient artifacts, but her knowledge is regularly appropriated by her boss, who takes credit for most of Elena’s work. The actress says she appreciated that touch, which made it all the more satisfying when the Transformers recognized her alter ego’s value.
“It’s exciting when the Autobots who have intelligence for eons decide that they believe in her and want to give her credit,” Fishback enthuses. “From the beginning, they’re dependent on her and know that she is worthy and that her brains are worthy. I really appreciated that.”
Fishback also gives credit to last year’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever for setting the stage for this current run of blockbusters where Black women are front and center in the action. “I went to the same theater company as Dominique Thorne,” she says, referring to the actress who made her Marvel Cinematic Universe debut in that film as young inventor Riri Williams, aka Ironheart. “She’s from Brooklyn as well, so shout out to Brooklyn!”
Speaking of Ironheart, the character will return as the star of an upcoming Disney+ series where she’ll face off against a villain played by someone close to Fishback… and that someone is Ramos. “I play The Hood, who is the villain in Ironheart,” the actor says. “It’s really cool to see this squad of people from our neighborhoods coming up.”
Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is playing in theaters now. Here’s where to watch all of the previous Transformers films.