Here is a brainteaser for everyone: think of one Oscar-nominated film that was directed by, written by or starring a person of color this year. It’s hard to think of one, right? In light of the painfully obvious lack of diversity at the Oscars a few weeks ago, and Hollywood and cinemas’ ongoing resistance to put more of a spotlight on people of color, one organization is creating a way to fight the power.
ImageNation Cinema Foundation, a Harlem-based media organization, is in the process of establishing a chain of art-house cinemas around the world. It’s first destination, before opening theaters in South Africa and the West Coast, will be right across from the famous Apollo Theatre in the closed Mart 125 building. To be opened in 2013, Sol Cinema will be Harlem’s and the nation’s first art-house cinema dedicated to showcasing Black and Latino film.
Founded by Moikgantsi Kgama in 1997, ImageNation’s goal has been showing progressive media by people of color. “…We define progressive media as film, music and other forms of media that provide thought provoking, diverse, complex, realistic and imaginative portrayals of people of color, and highlight the humanity of those portrayed,” said Kgama in an online interview.
One example of progressive media that Kgama brought up was I Will Follow, which opens today at the 34st AMC theatre, a film she and ImageNation have been promoting. Written and directed by Ava DuVernay, the film stars stars Salli Richardson-Whitfield, Tracie Thoms and Omari Hardwick, and is a heartwarming and original story of Maye, a woman who is grieving the loss of her beloved aunt, and finds solace in the visitors she encounters throughout one day.
Last year, ImageNation also took part in promoting Dream Hampton‘s documentary, Black August: A Hip-Hop Benefit Concert. An inspirational film about how the Hip-Hop community is collaborating with activists to raise awareness about U.S. political prisoners and exiles, the documentary included appearances from Assata Shakur, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Dead Prez, Monifa Bandele and others.
When asked about ImageNation, Hampton responded, “I appreciated that ImageNation agreed to screen Black August without seeing a finished version. Their faith in the film was a huge support while I was in the editing room. Exhibition is absolutely key when it comes to independent cinema and ImageNation has been an invaluable resource and support.”
Why is an art-house theatre like Sol Cinema needed now? “When I looked at what was happening in independent cinema,” said Kgama, “I realized that there are lots of talented filmmakers of color creating quality films, however there was real need for an exhibition and distribution vehicle dedicated to their works. …The theatrical run is still the lynchpin of the movie industry and most independent Black and Latino films are denied a theatrical release because there are no cinemas dedicated to these works…”
Some of the services that Sol Cinema will provide to the film community and viewers are in-house marketing, audience development, online programs, worldwide access to films and a venue that consistently showcases these films.
Not only will the theatre benefit filmmakers and filmgoers, but it will also benefit Harlem in the long run. According to the Harlem Community Development Corporation, the cinema’s projected gross impact is “nearly $900,000 of new sales in the Harlem community,” and will provide a tourist boom to 125th St. economy.
Mentioned on ImageNation’s website, Sol Cinema has received support from some well-known figures, like Danny Glover, Erykah Badu, Bjork, Damon Dash and Lee Daniels. Harlem council member Inez E. Dickens, the New York City Economic Development Corporation, the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone and the Department of Cultural Affairs have also been big supporters in the development of the theatre as well as the National Jazz Museum, which will be in the same building, too. The city has committed $1.4 million towards the construction of the theatre.
“The Sol Cinema will provide a physical institution symbolizing the Black community’s dedication to preserving our images and defining our culture. …The venue will be a place where people can connect, experience global culture (food, film and music), discuss issues related to our communities, [and] strive for and find solutions,” said Kgama. From the looks of it, ImageNation’s Sol Cinema on its way to becoming a contender.