What do Invictus, Red Tails and 42 all have in common with my favourite mainstream movie theatre, Rainbow Cinemas? They were all films that were initially scheduled for that theatre, complete with posters displayed both on the frames at the outlet and on the website. Then, they are unceremoniously removed from the schedule before their release date by their distributors over the theatre management's objections and their main run is restricted to a handful of other theatres in the city.
They are also all serious dramas with black men being the lead characters of the stories. That is a relationship that feels all the more disconcerting and illogical considering they were supposed to be up for a wide release and you'd think going back on that would be obviously counter-productive. So, given that fact, the obvious possibility that comes to mind is a racist assumption that there is no point giving those films the widest release they can get. Even when I heard reasons like Invictus had to have a certain auditorium seating capacity in a theatre to be shown is ridiculous considering that a wide release would mean a selection of cinemas with a great combined seating availability.
I know there are deviations from this pattern; the 2011 Oscar winning silent film, The Artist, was similarly pulled from Rainbow's schedule and Ali, the biopic about Muhammad Ali ran there without a problem in 2001. However, that does not take away from the fact that it seems the majority of films I notice that get this treatment have the above racial connotation. How much this observation of mine is actually real is a matter I can't prove considering I don't have a list of distributed films that were treated in this way. However, there is a saying, "Once is Happenstance, Twice is Coincidence, Three times is Pattern," and it's a pattern that is deeply frustrating for myself who want to see such films, and the cinema managements who want to show them.
It would make more sense if it was the standard platforming limited release pattern for art films that is designed to build buzz to attract the audiences for such a film. I respect that pattern, if only it means that deserving films don't get jerked around like the above films. Even if they were shown only at The Hyland, at least it's at a cinema I can go to with reasonable ease with good ticket prices. The difference is that there are no false or thwarted expectations involved for films and we the audience are not treated as disposable. Even the logic of 42's early distribution baffles me: I can see some "arty" films being restricted to the higher class multiplexs like SilverCity, but why Empire on Wellington, the rattiest cinema in London with the worst major bus route section in the city, got one of the only 2 prints in the city with SilverCity defies all logic.
Fortunately, 42 is emulating its hero, Jackie Robinson, and is a major hit that is breaking through with a wider release starting this Friday, including Rainbow. So, I will get to enjoy a decent drama film without the expensive bother of getting to SilverCity or Empire after enduring the usual early year movie dump months. I just wish this kind of distribution practice would be replaced with something logical for once.