Striving for Diversity

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“Diversity” has been the buzzword in the movie industry since the Academy Award nominations were announced on January 14, and for the second year in a row all 20 acting nominees were white. African-American performers and filmmakers in particular expressed their disappointment or anger over the selections, with some even calling for a boycott of the Oscar ceremony. In response, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced several changes in its structure and voting qualifications to increase both the female component and the racial diversity of its membership. Those measures include denying voting privileges to veteran Academy members who have been inactive in motion pictures for the past ten years (except for past winners and nominees) and “a global campaign to identify and recruit qualified new members who represent greater diversity.”

The past decade has seen a number of non-Caucasian Oscar winners (Lupita Nyong’o, Ang Lee, Steve McQueen, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Octavia Spencer, John Ridley) and nominees. But last year’s snub of Selma in the acting and directing categories, and this year’s lack of recognition for SAG and Producers Guild Best Picture nominee Straight Outta Compton, National Society of Film Critics Best Actor Michael B. Jordan (Creed), and SAG Supporting Actor winner Idris Elba have fueled criticism that the Academy, whose vast majority of members are older white men, tends to respond more readily to projects and players that reflect their world. The intentions and biases of Academy members are a matter for debate, but the organization’s efforts to be more inclusive in this increasingly demographically evolving society are to be applauded.

Of course, any actor will tell you that an Oscar nomination won’t happen without the opportunity to play a great role. The critical and popular success of Universal’s Straight Outta Compton and Warner Bros.’ Creed proves that there is an eager audience for highly accomplished dramas about the African-American community, alongside all those Kevin Hart and Tyler Perry comedy hits. (And let’s not forget to mention how many female-driven movies boost the box-office numbers each year.) With those successful examples, it only makes sense not only for the Academy to shake things up, but for the studios to seek out more diverse voices in their executive suites, the kind that might encourage the color Hollywood likes the most: green.

Offering a Premium

The motion picture industry has experienced a great many changes over the past two decades. It would be hard to quantify the biggest change, but it is fair to say that the near-elimination of film via digital projectors has to be the most revolutionary shift. In recent years, the cinema business has also adopted stadium seating, surround sound, digital and immersive sound, luxury and 4D seating, VIP auditoriums and dine-in theatres.

One trend that has become very popular and a must to compete with other cinemas in the market is Premium Large Format (PLF). The pioneer in giant-screen presentations continues to be IMAX. Although IMAX is still the undisputed champion, the industry has taken a major step in the same direction by establishing their own large-screen-format brands. The number of those screens has grown dramatically and the proliferation continues because of the tremendous response they are enjoying from patrons and at the box office.

PLF is now one of the fastest-growing and most active areas of cinema exhibition. North America is still the largest market for exhibitor-branded PLF screens, with China coming in second.

Film Journal International surveyed more than a dozen leading exhibition chains for an article beginning on page 30. Here are some of the current stats:

* Texas–based Cinemark reports that its Cinemark XD is the number-one PLF in the world, with 128 XD auditoriums in the United States and 80 in Central and South America. The circuit says that customers have responded extremely well to the concept.

* Regal Entertainment Group, the largest circuit in the world, offers 87 RPX (Regal Premium Experience) as its PLF brand.

* At the end of 2015, Canada’s Cineplex had 80 proprietary UltraAVX™ auditoriums, with more planned for 2016. UltraAVX stands for Ultra Audio Visual Experience and features Dolby Atmos® 3D sound and high definition from Christie 4K projectors.

* Chinese giant Wanda Cinema Line has roughly 50 PLF auditoriums encompassing two brands: X-Land and No. 9 Auditorium. The circuit plans to open an additional 20 by the end of 2016.

* Mexico’s Cinépolis, the fourth-largest circuit in the world, boasts 59 MACRO XE large-format screens.

* Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based Marcus Theatres offers two PLF concepts: UltraScreen DLX® and SuperScreen DLX®. The circuit operates a total of 42 PLF auditoriums at more than 61 percent of company-owned first-run locations. Marcus recently opened 17 newly renovated PLF auditoriums at 11 cinemas.

* Based in Columbus, Georgia, Carmike Cinemas has 33 BIGD auditoriums with more due to open this year. The BIGD boasts a wall-to-wall screen as high as 78 feet wide and over three stories tall.

* Vue Entertainment operates 11 branded Vue Extreme PLF locations in the U.K., utilizing Sony 4K ultra-high-definition projectors.

* AMC Theatres, based in Kansas City, has a new initiative called Dolby Cinema™ at AMC Prime®. The theatres combine Dolby Vision laser projection on giant screens and Dolby Atmos immersive sound. AMC currently operates 13 Dolby Cinema at AMC Prime locations, with six due to open in 2016. The circuit’s earlier PLF brand ETX (Enhanced Theatre Experience) currently has ten locations.

This is just a sampling of the companies that responded to our survey. Who says that the future of movies in theatres is in jeopardy? We believe that the future of cinemas is looking quite big!