Inclusive Programming Head Nikkole Denson-Randolph on AMC Theatres’ First-Ever Juneteenth Series

Yesterday marked the official anointment of Juneteenth—June 19, a day celebrating the emancipation of enslaved peoples in the U.S.—as a national holiday. Long celebrated in Black communities, the holiday—and its lack of official federal recognition—has grown as a topic of conversation in recent years, concurrent with discussions surrounding policing in the U.S.. Following the killing of George Floyd, AMC Theatres was one of many companies that took stock of what they could do, both internally and externally, to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

One of the results of those conversations is “AMC Black Picture Showcase Celebrating Juneteenth,” a seven-film series starting today and running through June 24. Boxoffice Pro was able to sit down with Nikkole Denson-Randolph, AMC’s SVP, Content Strategy & Inclusive Programming, to discuss how the Juneteenth series came about and the future of inclusive programming at the world’s largest theater chain.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

How long has the idea for this Juneteenth series been percolating at AMC?

Right after the horrifying murder of George Floyd, our CEO [Adam Aron] and senior leadership reached out to every employee in the company. All of our associates received a letter from the CEO, who essentially leaned in and said, “There are things that we need to be addressing within our organization. Besides this being absolutely horrific, let’s make sure that we are shining a light on the diverse experiences of our own.” 

He committed to dialing up these town halls for several groups. Not only the African American experience, but LGBTQ+ and women and Latinx. Basically, over several months, we all participated—and some of the senior leadership played as active listeners—in these town halls that allowed our associates, from theater level on into corporate, to share their experiences [and] bring voice to other things they would like to see our organization do and ways to support them. [Then] they formed smaller groups, which is when we began to formulate different ideas. [The Juneteenth series] is one of several. I would say that this has been several months in the making. I’ve been working alongside, on the programming side, to support. It’s one of several ideas coming to fruition, and it’s very exciting.

The fact that the biggest theater chain in America is recognizing and celebrating Juneteenth is really amazing, I think. It could be a message to the rest of the industry.

I hope, given the fact that we are the largest theater circuit in the nation and in the world, that by showing this kind of support—maybe it signals to others: “Why not? What are we missing?” Maybe they should look at doing something similar. 

I’m also hoping that by celebrating these films and providing them at an extreme discount and providing this opportunity for people to commune, that it really shows inclusiveness around everyone. I’m not looking for just African Americans to attend the films and reminisce on how special they are. This is an opportunity to not only reflect and celebrate our cultural uniqueness, but also to remind us all of how similar we are. People can find similar experiences across cultures and communities. So I hope that it attracts other people—maybe loyalty members of ours, or others who walk up to theaters and decide, “Oh, this might be interesting. I haven’t seen that. Let me take a look.” 

I do hope that this sheds a light in a way that really does bring others to become more involved in celebrating and understanding what the holiday—now a holiday, yay!—is about.

I’ll see Love & Basketball on the big screen any day.

If it’s $5, why not?

I would pay full price!

That makes two of us. I’m a huge fan. Every time I cross it on another screen, I always stop. It doesn’t get old. It’s such a lovely young love story. But it also has these other elements that are really fun. 

AMC has been great at marketing the sort of non-traditional programming they’ve gone into over the last year and a half, whether it’s private cinema rentals or your exhibitor VOD platform. What’s your approach to marketing this series?

For this series in particular, we’re leveraging all of our owned and operated assets, essentially, because we’re celebrating something that’s larger than the individual film. Everything from our website to reaching out to loyalty members—we’re able to target those who we know would be probably more interested. You’ll see mobile push notifications, etc. 

But as far as inclusive programming—we just opened a Vietnamese film [Bo Gia] on 19 screens. It just crossed a million dollars. We have like a 58% market share on it. We play Indian cinema in five different languages. But there, again, because our theaters really take on the essence of the communities that they’re in, we’re a little more deliberate about how we market them. We use a lot of the same tactics, but we’re reaching those folks right where they are, versus the broader promotional support that the Juneteenth Black Picture Showcase is getting.

I love how, at the AMC in Times Square, if you go up to those top floors you’re playing all these films from China and Japan. You don’t necessarily see them get widely marketed, but once you know they’re there you’re like, “Oh, this is great.”

Exactly. What we have seen over the years is, as our guests or members or others who follow us learn that, “Oh, they do have these films”—we are seeing that, by having some consistency around the programming in those specific series, we’ve been able to broaden our footprint. 

Is there room in the future for AMC to do more programming like this Juneteenth series—Black film, or Queer film, etc.—outside the context of a specific holiday?

Most definitely. Year round, you will begin to see us delivering other programs to bring our guests back to the theater more often and serve more diverse interests. We want to continue to serve the social and cultural interests of the hundreds of millions of guests who, pre-Covid, were coming to our theaters regularly. Especially given the groups, our councils, that we have today. You will see as dial up some other programming initiatives to support [what’s] being driven by those councils.

With the Juneteenth series, the films are also available for private cinema rentals. Are you doing much by way of outreach to charities or groups that might be interested in renting out an auditorium? 

That has slowed a bit, because we’re a bit resource light. But we have made it known, and I think we will get back to that place where we will have a more active outreach to community charities. Right now, for Universal, we’re doing something for essential workers in partnership with them. We do have Group Sales. We do have folks that are in that space. In particular, for this event, we did not have resources in place where there’s a person dedicated to reaching out to those communities. But given the breadth of the promotional plans that we have set in place, and the reach of that, we believe that we’re well covered.

You have seven films in the series. I can only imagine it was very difficult narrowing it down. How did AMC decide on the lineup?

Several of the council members made recommendations. Members from our programming team made recommendations. We started with an extensive list and voted and were able to narrow it down. But I also must tell you, candidly, some of the films on the list, studios [put them into] what they call turnaround, where they don’t necessarily allow them to be on the screen. So there were a couple that we kind of had to haggle over. But we ended up with a perfect, perfect list. We’ve got something for everyone, everything from comedy to historical to romance. Even a new film, that David Oyelowo produced. [The Water Man].

The AMC Black Picture Showcase Celebrating Juneteenth features screenings of Do the Right Thing, Harriet, The Water Man, Fences, Moonlight, Love & Basketball, and Barbershop: The Next Cut. For showtime information, visit visit AMCTheatres.com.

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