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'Golden age of black cinema'

4/12/2013, 6 a.m.
Angela, Golden age of Black Cinema

LOS ANGELES – It’s being called the dawn of the “golden age of black cinema.”

And it comes not a moment too late, observers say.

Filmmaker Shola Lynch’s “Free Angela and All Political Prisoners” hit AMC theatres in 10 major markets last week, a fairly large release for an independent documentary. Most significant, however, is that the rollout was managed by CodeBlack Entertainment, a black-owned film studio with a distribution division.

This is big news in a multi-billion dollar industry in which African-Americans frequently play significant roles in front of the camera but are virtually invisible behind it, observers say.

While blacks have been writing, producing and directing films since the dawn of the industry, the rise of CodeBlack is just the latest sign that African Americans are moving into distribution – financially, the most important aspect of the film industry.

Early independent black filmmakers such as Oscar Micheaux and George and Noble Johnson broke the film distribution color barrier in the early 20th century, but widespread distribution has been a barrier to independent black filmmakers since desegregration. Now, with more power to distribute, African Americans also will begin to make more films, said Bill Wynn, a Los Angeles-based film promoter and producer.

“This is growing every year. People … are creating and putting out their own work,” he said. “That is why I say we are in the golden age of black cinema. There are a number of films [involving African Americans] coming out.”

“Free Angela” was released exclusively in select AMC theatres in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Oakland, San Francisco, Boston, Washington D.C., Atlanta and Detroit nearly a year after CodeBlack, formed a partnership with Lionsgate to help the entertainment company extend its reach into the digital urban market content.

The April 5 release comes in the wake of the March 13 opening of “Better Mus Come,” the first film distributed by ARRAY, a new multi-platform distributor of black independent film. ARRAY is the creation of the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement (AFFRM), a distribution collective founded in February to push movies from African-American filmmakers into commercial theaters. The collective includes film organizations in Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Seattle and Atlanta.

The Los Angeles-based AFFRM was founded by Ava Duverney, a producer, director and self-distributor of three films – among them, the acclaimed “Middle of Nowhere,” which earned her the 2012 Sundance Best Director Award. The new distribution label will target theaters and other platforms like video-on-demand.

“AFFRM’s new label Array is built to serve the tremendous burst of black cinematic talent across the globe – filmmakers who are embracing new technologies to tell their stories by any means necessary,” ” DuVernay said in a statement.

“The goal is to expand the brand cultivated over our first four theatrical releases by reaching new audiences via both digital and traditional platforms,” she added.

“Better Mus' Come,” to which Array holds all U.S. distribution rights, is the debut of writer and director Storm Saulter. The 104-minute fictionalized drama is a love story that also follows warring political factions in 1970s Jamaica as they enlist the support of gangs to enforce their policies and advance their political agenda.