Academy Row Media

Serving Your Community

Serving Your Community

 I received a good part of my cinematic education at the Plaza. The theater itself was by modern standards a bit dingy, but that didn’t matter, the concession stand was simple and for some reason sold granola, the seating was circa 1940’s. The whole place had a well worn patina that exuded legacy. The screen had seen better days. The projectors were old Simplex’s and the doughnut appeared on the upper right side of the screen, the faint ring of a bell was heard and reels were changed, most of the time seamlessly other times not.

 I have seen hundreds of movies at the Plaza, from Casablanca, to Mediterraneo, Dark Star to Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Golden Mountain, Truffaut’s Jules et Jim and of course the movies of Baltimore’s favorite son John Waters. The programming was profound and for a dyed in the wool cinephile it was pure heaven. It was like I was dipped in the waters of the river Jordan and was baptized. I was made aware of both the legacy and the impact of cinema. The images and the stories on that worn screen were burnt in both my soul and my consciousness.

 When I entered the auditorium of the Plaza the song “The Weight” by the Band blared over stressed speakers. The movies changed, the song never did.

 It didn’t matter what the seats looked like, it mattered what was on the screen. It didn’t have stadium seating, it didn’t have Dolby or THX, none of that mattered. It excelled at the fundamentals of movie going. It focused on dynamic and expansive programming which reflected on the needs, the curiosities, and the passions of the community it served.


 The business of exhibition handed over the keys to the car years ago to the studios and now is paying a deep price. At one time independent theaters were much more masters of their own destiny than they are today. They fought for pictures, launched lawsuits to prevent illegal booking practices. They took on the studios. They lobbied for laws that protected the interests of the independent theater and worked to ensure a level playing field. Theater owners would reach out over the phone to argue with studio sales staff. They would argue, cajole and insist. Sometimes they would get their way.

 Now theaters have schedules and programming forced on them. The audience is not being served, instead streaming, merchandising, and ancillary revenue sources are being served. UCLA has just issued a Hollywood Diversity Report which has some telling stats. If you can look beyond the politically correct manifestations, the report contains a great deal of truth and perspective. The director of the UCLA based Entertainment and Media Research Initiative Ana-Christian Ramon makes the statement, “Our research shows that diversity in the movies is just good business. People of color saved the theatrical industry during the pandemic, and they are key to bringing the theatrical business back to its pre-pandemic levels.” The report also found that Hollywood’s “conventional wisdom” – that minority-led films, or those with diverse casts, don’t do well overseas – “is in fact a myth.” When these films are distributed in international markets, “The world’s diverse populations welcome the diverse film content just as much as domestic audiences do.” It noted that the aggregated minority population, which now sits at 43.1%, is growing at half a percent per annum. This is providing a key vista on what the audience of tomorrow is going to look like.

 We need a diversity of storytelling, but not storytelling for the sake of manifesting some forced even handedness. What the audience wants, whatever the racial or cultural origin, are well crafted stories. The report goes on to say, “New evidence from 2022 continues to support findings from earlier reports in this series suggesting that America’s increasingly diverse audiences prefer diverse film content in both theatrical and streaming releases,” the report says. “In 2022, theatrical films with casts that were from 31% to 40% minority enjoyed the highest median global box office receipts, while films with casts that were less than 11% minority were the poorest performers.”

If you look at the offerings being put forward by Netflix you will see the rise of Spanish, Indian, Korean, Chinese and European produced movies. The reason this programming is being placed is that people are watching it. If the audience exists for this content on streaming, wouldn’t it make sense that this content would also have some appeal in theaters.

Globally we are seeing a lack of diverse storytelling and a lack of good storytelling. Audiences are not being addressed and are not being served.

 The Plaza is still seeking out movies that speak to their audience. After relaunching as a rep house 40 plus years ago it is still fulfilling that mission and doing it well. Theater at all times should reflect the communities they serve.

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