Wednesday, January 15, 2020

A Look At Array Releasing, One of the Most Vital Modern Movie Studios

When it comes to American movie studios, we all likely know the Five Major Studios. Which studios occupy that group has shifted over the last seventy years (remember when RKO was part of this group?) but in the modern context, Universal, Disney, Warner Bros. Sony/Columbia and Paramount are the five studios we could name and whose logos we could recognize. Perhaps Lionsgate and A24 are also known by the broader public. Beyond that, though, the sheer number of studios and production companies out there means they inevitably tend to blur together. But one studio that should be on more people's radar is the independent distribution company Array Releasing.

Array Releasing runs under the radar. Its small-scale titles didn't dominate the Oscars nominations nor generate endless assortments of memes that get shared widely. Even its own Wikipedia page reflects its underseen status given how the section dedicated to chronicling the studio's library is woefully out of date (apparently Array just stopped distributing movies in 2016). Array Releasing may struggle to garner respect and recognition but it still continues on serving an important role in the Hollywood landscape. Specifically, it's giving films from filmmakers of color a chance to be seen by the broader public.

Such a goal was evident in Array's original name. When it was founded by Selma/When They See Us director Ava DuVernay in 2010, Array was called the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement. Per an interview with DuVernay in October 2019, Array Releasing was designed from the ground-up to overcome the obstacles facing filmmakers of color in Hollywood. Such challenges are all too familiar to DuVernay. Her 2011 directorial effort I Will Follow failed to garner domestic distribution from any of the long-established indie movie studios. If nobody else wanted her works, she'd create a place where they would be welcome.

Thus, I Will Follow became the first title distributed by Array Releasing, which proceeded to release a handful of movies over the coming years. Once DuVernay's profile increased heavily with the 2014 Best Picture nominee Selma, Array's annual release slate began to increase as they added titles like Out of my Hand and HoneyTrap. Though DuVernay has a separate production company also named Array that develops fresh new projects, Array Releasing, as of this writing, focuses on distributing already-existing titles. Such an approach led to 2019 being their most prolific year to date thanks to movies like The Burial of Kojo, Burning Cane and The Body Remembers When The World Broke Open. 

DuVernay's ambition to get these projects not just released but seen is also reflected in how Array's titles tend to launch on Netflix alongside their theatrical releases. Through debuting on this streaming platform (one that's been home to two DuVernay directorial efforts to date), films that might normally play in just multiplexes in big cities can now be seen by audiences all across the planet. Members of marginalized communities located anywhere can now have the chance to see stories that remind them that their own stories have value and are worthy of being put on the big screen. It's a message that rings more urgent than ever given how often stories about people of color are pushed to the side in Hollywood.

This week's discouraging Oscar nominations almost entirely excluded performers of color while only one of the nine Best Picture nominees starred people of color. Four years after #OscarsSoWhite first started trending, it was like nothing had changed. It was another example of the kind of prejudice against films about people of color that inspired Ava DuVernay to start Array Releasing in the first place. Through titles like The Burial of Kojo, Array Releasing is providing a home for the stories Hollywood struggles to recognize even exist, let alone actually tell. Considering that DuVernay's profile appears poised to only increase further in the coming years with forthcoming projects like New Gods, it's likely Array Releasing will similarly be expanding its profile in the future. Maybe it's not a household name like the five major American movie studios, but that doesn't minimize the important work Array Releasing is doing for underserved filmmakers.

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