The past year has been a monumental one for Ava DuVernay and her black film distribution business AFFRM. After winning Best Director at last year's Sundance Film Festival, Middle of Nowhere stayed within the critical sphere of consciousness all year long, garnering outstanding reviews and coming within shouting distance of an Oscar nomination. Even though the film missed, one has to believe that its success will make it easier for the next independent black film to make it, though it must be said that Nowhere doesn't need Oscar validation to be a good movie.
Earlier this week, I linked to an announcement that AFFRM would expand its reach, starting up a new label for the express purpose of releasing black indy films on a multi-platform level, which presumes a wider media exposure, and that is exciting. In its brief existence, AFFRM has championed high-quality films by filmmakers of color and gotten them into mass-market theaters in big cities around the country, and is playing a big part in re-defining black cinema in America.
Looking at the films they've backed, however - DuVernay's Nowhere and I Will Follow, plus Kinyarwanda, Restless City, and now Better Mus' Come - one notices a trend that I find a bit problematic: they're all deadly-serious dramas. Good ones, but all dramas just the same. (I haven't seen Better, but its description sounds like it's in much the same vein. I won't know for sure until I see it.)
I suspect, and I admit I may be off on this, that part of the reason why may be a result of DuVernay's personal sensibilities on what she looks for in a film. I love the fact that she doesn't settle for the easy, safe, commercial choice; that she seeks out films that reflect the worldview and vision of their creators. That's important.
By the same token, though, I hope that somewhere down the line AFFRM backs films that reflect as much diversity of genre as one would find at, say, Sundance, or Toronto or Telluride or Cannes: romance, or suspense, or (smart) comedy, or even science-fiction. An animated film would be nice. I believe that this is a goal AFFRM shares and it's my hope that they're working towards it.