Hollywood is continuing to feel the impacts of the coronavirus outbreak. The past week has been littered with cancellations, postponements and delays. The first signal of trouble was when South by Southwest was canceled last Friday in an unprecedented move.
The SXSW Film Festival has often premiered several films from major studios, giving them a big push before they land in theaters. Last year, Jordan Peele’s Us, from Universal Pictures, made its world premiere and started the early conversation for Lupita Nyong’o’s awards season possibilities.
This year’s films poised to make a big splash before hitting theaters were Orion Pictures’ Bad Trip, which is the first prank film with a Black-led cast. Paramount’s The Lovebirds, starring Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani was also set to premiere. Bad Trip got its premiere date moved after the SXSW cancellation and The Lovebirds has now been delayed
And though these big films get spotlights at the festival, SXSW is very important to indie films and filmmakers. In the past few years, SXSW gave world premieres to films such as Nijla Mu’min’s Jinn and Numa Perrier’s Jezebel. Both coming-of-age dramas ended up getting acquisition deals after the festival, with Mu’min’s film landing at Orion Classics and Perrier’s film landing at Ava DuVernay’s ARRAY.
Several Black indie films were set for the SXSW 2020, including the post-Hurricane Katrina heist film Cut Throat City, which stars Shameik Moore, and period drama The 24th starring Trai Byers and Aja Naomi King.
'Cut Throat City' | Photo: Well GO USA
Felicia Pride, the co-writer and executive producer of the Black romance film Really Love, explained just how SXSW is a big launching pad for films and careers, especially Black women filmmakers. The film, which boasts a cast including Kofi Siriboe, Yootha Wong-Loi-Sing, Naturi Naughton, Uzo Aduba and Michael Ealy, was set to debut at SXSW this year.
“Getting Really Love made has been a 10-year journey for me,” Pride told Shadow And Act. “The hours, the tears, the sacrifices that so many--our director Angel Kristi Williams, our producers, including Mel Jones and Aaliyah Williams, our cast and crew--poured into this film has been tremendous. It's been an emotional rollercoaster nearly every step of the way. In many ways, SXSW represented the highest of points in our journey so far: A it-was-all-worth-it moment. A chance to get together again and celebrate our artistic baby that we worked so hard to get to this point and to screen it professionally at a top-tier festival,” she said.
One of the documentaries that was to premiere at the festival was A Most Beautiful Thing, which focuses on the first high school rowing team composed of Black youth. The doc has some major names attached to it, including Common, Dwyane Wade and Grant Hill, who are executive producers. “The guys and I are bummed as we had planned to travel to SXSW to share our story, but we’re still excited and looking forward to the theatrical release of A Most Beautiful Thing at the end of the month,” Arshay Cooper, whose memoir of the same name is the basis for the film, told Shadow And Act.
“On the business and practical side, SXSW is a major launching pad for films and careers--including for Black women filmmakers--and a market for prospective buyers. Getting the film made is one arduous feat, getting it seen is another major hurdle especially for a film like ours, a Black romantic drama. I worked in film distribution previously and I know how hard it is for our films to sell and for us to partner with distributors that understand our work and our audience,” she added.
Denzel Whitaker, who also stars in Cut Throat City, told Shadow And Act: “Now more than ever, people of color have the greatest opportunity window to be heard and voice our unique perspectives through film and television. With the cancellation of SXSW and the continuing outbreak of COVID-19, I’m deeply concerned about our voices being muted once again to an economic downturn."
Despite the cancellation, the filmmakers are all pressing forward and are optimistic about the next step in this journey. “What Angel and I always say is that Really Love is the little film that could. It is going to come to the world as it wants and despite everything. Our lead creative team of Black women will continue to push for Really Love until it reaches the light of day and beyond, because that is what Black women do. So I rest assured on that,” said Pride.
Some films like The Most Beautiful Thing and Cut Throat City already have their releases set. Director Mary Mazzio told S&A, “The entire A Most Beautiful Thing team is disappointed to miss a premiere at SXSW, but we are now shifting to a new premiere in Chicago, co-hosted by the city, and to our theatrical release with our partners at AMC Theatres.” The film opens in select theaters on March 27. “The show must go on, and all of us along with it,” said Mazzio.
Whitaker added, “I strongly encourage all of my fellow creatives of color to continue our efforts with breaking down barriers and opening doors for our own. Press forward, band our resources together, and if the platform is not available, let’s build it ourselves; the playing ground is still leveling itself out. And with all due respect to personal health and safety, please continue to support our projects during these alarming times, including Cut Throat City coming out April 10. Numbers will not be ignored.
Photo: MACRO Ventures