For Ava DuVernay's film distribution and resource collective ARRAY, it's never been business as usual. Originally named AFFRM (African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement) when it launched in 2010, DuVernay's collective has expanded to acquiring and distributing independent films by people of color and women of all backgrounds around the world. Now with a nonprofit arm and a brand-new, 50-seat, DGA-compliant theater on its campus, ARRAY is continuing its efforts to disrupt the Hollywood status quo.
"When we started, it was solely to disrupt the distribution model of Hollywood," one of ARRAY's original staffers and now Director of Programming Mercedes Cooper told Shadow And Act after a tour of the campus. "We're very grassroots; we’re not a studio system," Cooper shared of ARRAY's efforts to market and distribute independent films without using the traditional methods of billboards, commercials and radio spots. "That was our foundation, to disrupt distribution so we could start to infiltrate those screens with the work we want to see, that we know there’s an audience for."
As DuVernay started to develop her own productions, the goal expanded to disrupting the production model. "With Queen Sugar, you have [DuVernay] coming in with the first season saying, 'You know what? I’m only going to hire women directors. How about that? Nobody’s hiring women directors on the shows I love like Game of Thrones or anywhere else, so why don’t I just make my own model for how I want to move forward with the first television show.' So that was a disruption there that hopefully other productions can use as a model to say, 'Hey, there’s a talent pool if you go just go a little farther than your familiar border.'"
Now, with its non-profit arm, ARRAY is moving into programming and educational initiatives to further disrupt how films are exhibited. Previously, ARRAY would have to pitch theaters on the films they've acquired from around the world and explain why a subtitled film with thespians Hollywood might not know is still valuable. With ARRAY's new Amanda Theater, (named after DuVernay's aunt who inspired her love of film), that's no longer the only route to distributing their films. "[It's about] not having to go out and validate and justify to other spaces [why this film is important, and] building our own door, walking through that door and disrupting the exhibition model," Cooper said. "It’s not like, 'On Black History Month, we’re going to show you films from the African diaspora.' How about we just show films from the African diaspora when we want? How about we show films from the Latinx perspective when we want? The Asian perspective when we want?"
That's what Cooper's inaugural film screening program, ARRAY 360, is all about. Featuring films from Filipinx filmmakers and Black filmmakers across the Diaspora, the six-week series allows cinephiles in Los Angeles an opportunity to come watch free movies curated by the team every weekend until November 2.
"Most of our screenings hit capacity pretty early," Cooper said, but there are plenty of opportunities over the next few weeks to come experience smaller film gems with fellow movie lovers. "We’re really proud of the film you might not know the film you might not know the language but maybe just try something new."