The box office success of the film Black Panther, a major Hollywood production directed by Ryan Coogler and featuring a strong paean to Afro-Futurism, is living proof that audiences are ready to welcome diversity at movie theaters. Coogler rose to prominence in Hollywood after Fruitvale Station, a love letter to his California hometown of Oakland, which happens to also be the home of the radical Black Panther Party. Coogler went on to direct Creed, one of the most critically acclaimed entries in the Rocky Balboa film series.
It should be noted that Coogler got his cinematic start through his involvement in the African American Film Festival Releasing Movement, which was founded by Ava DuVernay in 2010. DuVernay is known for directing feature films such as Selma and A Wrinkle in Time, but she is also known for her work in Array, an organization that supports production of movies that portray the African experience around the world.
Coogler and DuVernay are strong pillars of the African American community of independent filmmakers, not just for their talents but also for their commitment to diversity. Although both are now recognized as skilled and influential members of Hollywood, they realize that they must do more to fight the traditional power structure of this industry, which has largely shunned the potential of African talent. For this to change, DuVernay’s Array organization promotes the intricate business aspect of releasing and distribution, without which even major productions such as Black Panther would not be able to reach global audiences.
Some of the titles that have been released under the Array imprint include:
Kinyarwanda – 2011: A film that portrays the unlikely romance between a Hutu man and a Tutsi woman.
Restless City – 2012: A view of the struggles of African immigrants in New York City, where even romance can get complicated by everyday life.
Vanishing Pearls – 2014: A powerful documentary about the lives of African American fishing villages in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010.
Echo Park – 2016: In East Los Angeles, a diverse neighborhood resists against gentrification while an American woman and an African man develop an unlikely romance.
Under DuVernay’s leadership, Array filmmakers stand a lot to gain; this is a woman who is not only talented behind the camera but also behind the doors of major film production studios. As a Southern California native, she has sought the assistance of Eric Garcetti, the popular Mayor of Los Angeles, to launch a fund that will promote greater diversity in the back offices of the profitable Hollywood entertainment machine.
One of the goals of the Evolve Entertainment Fund is to provide financial support to up-and-coming producers who are part of the 39 ethnic groups that comprise Los Angeles, and they may get an opportunity to have their films released through Array.