Ava DuVernay’s ARRAY Releasing has acquired award-winning feature films “Definition Please” and “Donkeyhead” and will debut them on Netflix.
ARRAY has acquired distribution rights to both films in the U.S., U.K., Australia and New Zealand, with the additional territory of Canada for “Definition Please,” and will debut them on Jan. 21 on Netflix.
Both films are by South Asian origin female actor-filmmakers making their feature directorial debuts and who also star in them. “Definition Please” is by Sujata Day, whose acting credits include HBO’s “Insecure” and she directed and starred in short “Cowboy and Indian,” which is now being developed as a series.
The film follows Monica (Day), a former Scribbs Spelling Bee champion in the U.S. who must reconcile with her estranged brother when he returns home to help care for their sick mother. The film also features Ritesh Rajan (“Russian Doll”), Anna Khaja (“The Walking Dead: World Beyond”), Jake Choi (“Single Parents”), Lalaine (“Lizzie McGuire”), with LeVar Burton (“Roots”), and newcomer Maya Kapoor.
One of the protagonists in the film has mental health issues. “I feel it is very timely right now just from being stuck in the pandemic, and a lot of people around the world are experiencing depression and anxiety,” Day told Variety. “And, I wanted to see the reactions of the members of the South Asian family around the one person that is dealing with it.” Day grew up in the suburbs of Pennsylvania where there was a substantial South Asian community and had friends who would be stressed or depressed with the pressure of exams or trying to get into Ivy League schools.
“I would see them start falling apart and our parents, who were immigrants from India, could not understand what was going on with us.” says Day. “Nobody was talking about therapy. And that’s something that’s very prominent in our culture, where we keep everything inside the family, and we keep all the secrets. So I wanted to put that out in the open.”
“Donkeyhead” is by Canada’s Agam Darshi, who won acclaim for her central role in Deepa Mehta’s “Funny Boy” and also co-directed and starred in the short “Preeti and Sweety’s Canadian Christmas.” The film follows Mona (Darshi), a failed writer who carves out a life of isolation while caring for her ailing Sikh father in Canada. When he suffers a debilitating stroke, her three successful siblings show up on her doorstep determined to take control of the situation. The film also stars Kim Coates (“Sons of Anarchy”), Sandy Sidhu (“Nurses”), Stephen Lobo (“Arrow”), Huse Madhavji (“Schitt’s Creek”), Marvin Ishmael (“Degrassi: The Next Generation”) and Balinder Johal (“Beeba Boys”).
Inspired by the work of Noah Baumbach, Darshi set out to create a family dramedy, but shaped by her own upbringing and experiences, including the time when her father was diagnosed with cancer and she lived with her parents while he underwent chemotherapy. The film also addresses the pressures of career performance within South Asian families. “The pressure to have a successful career, whether it is being a doctor or writer, whatever you choose, it’s very high,” Darshi tells Variety. “It’s, in a lot of ways, keeping up with the Joneses. And then when you add the fact that it is an immigrant family, it’s even higher.”
Both films move well beyond the typical South Asian immigrant experience in North America. “The narrative is changing. The types of films that South Asian filmmakers are making – it’s no longer just about this push and pull between the traditional and the Western points of view, which a lot of films are usually about,” says Darshi. “But now we’re looking at themes that resonate beyond that, themes that are just much more personal and much more individual. I really believe in the need for films like this, that we need to show people that we are just like everyone else, the need to show someone with a turban, who’s struggling for the exact same things like everyone else.”
Day adds, “I think it will be really nice just for audiences to watch a different kind of story, because we’re used to seeing one type of South Asian story on screen, and this is another option.”
“Definition Please” world premiered at Geena Davis’ Bentonville Film Festival, has screened at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, where it won the special jury award for fresh narrative voice, and several other festivals. It is is produced by Day, Cameron Fife, Datari Turner, Ritesh Rajan and executive producers Hiren C. Surti, Ahmad Cory Jubran, Rey Cuerdo, Dan Evans III, Mindy Kaling, Lamont Magee and Deric A. Hughes.
“Donkeyhead” had its world premiere at Toronto’s Mosaic International South Asian Film Festival, where it won four awards including best fiction feature and best Canadian feature.
The acquisitions were negotiated by Gordon Bobb of Del, Shaw, Moonves, Tanaka, Finkelstein, and Lezcano on behalf of ARRAY; producers Darshi, Anand Ramayya and Kelly Balon on behalf of “Donkeyhead”; and Sean Pope of Ramo Law on behalf of “Definition Please.”
Tilane Jones, president of ARRAY, said: “ARRAY Releasing is proud to distribute the work of Sujata Day and Agam Darshi, two promising South Asian women filmmakers who both wrote, directed and star in their directorial debuts. ‘Definition Please’ and ‘Donkeyhead’ beautifully showcase the dynamic talent of their creators while sharing the oftentimes humorous dynamics of tradition and culture that film lovers of all kinds can relate to, appreciate and celebrate.”
Day is currently working on her next directorial venture, an absurd comedy. Darshi can next be seen in DuVernay’s upcoming HBO Max series “DMZ,” film “WifeLike” and is writing feature film “Tiny Birds With Broken Brains,” about the South Asian immigrant experience in North America.
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