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MGM shakes up Orion Pictures with a focus on diversity

Black-and-white photo portrait of Alana Mayo.
Alana Mayo will lead the newest incarnation of Orion Pictures.
(Kate Warren)

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios is rebooting its Orion Pictures label, this time with a focus on movies with diverse filmmakers and casts, the company said Thursday.

Producer Alana Mayo, who previously served as head of production at Michael B. Jordan’s Outlier Society, will lead the relaunched unit as its president, the Beverly Hills-based studio said in a release. Orion’s current five-person team, including President John Hegeman, will leave the company in early October following the release of “Bill & Ted Face the Music” and other projects.

Under Mayo, the unit will “concentrate exclusively on underrepresented voices and authentic storytelling in film with a focus on ... films that amplify underserved voices,” the company said. It has not yet announced any film projects under the new strategy.

The move comes amid increased scrutiny of Hollywood’s lack of diversity both on screen and in the workplace, following Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody. Advocates have called on Hollywood studios to do more to promote Black filmmakers and executives, and other people of color, in an industry largely run by white people.

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In a statement, Mayo called the current moment a “tipping point” for the industry. “For years many filmmakers and creators who have been considered and treated as outsiders have nonetheless persisted in creating visionary films that drew audiences across the globe and defined culture,” she said.

The change also marks the latest shakeup for MGM, which like other studios has been hard-hit by the coronavirus outbreak.. MGM, best known for franchises such as the James Bond and “Creed” movies, in January named Michael De Luca as its motion picture group head, replacing Jonathan Glickman. The studio in April laid off 7% of its staff, or about 50 people, as movies theaters and film sets remained largely shuttered.

Orion, once known as the banner behind “The Terminator” and “Silence of the Lambs,” has gone through multiple relaunches in the years since MGM bought it and its robust library in 1997.

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MGM most recently revived it in 2017 as a distribution arm focused on low-budget movies with specific audiences under Hegeman, who earlier served as president of Blumhouse’s experimental BH Tilt label. Orion released horror pictures including the latest “Child’s Play” movie and this year’s “Gretel & Hansel.” The unit faced stiff competition in the crowded low-budget horror space from dominant players including Blumhouse and Warner Bros.’ New Line Cinema. Orion has also been responsible for films in other genres, including comedies like the new “Bill & Ted.”

Previously, in 2013, the Orion brand was rebooted by MGM for television shows. The following year, the company revived the name for films, co-distributing such films as 2017’s “The Belko Experiment.”

At Jordan’s Outlier Society Mayo oversaw the firm’s film and television slate. During her time there, Outlier co-produced the HBO Films adaptation of “Fahrenheit 451.” Mayo was a producer on Warners’ 2019 drama “Just Mercy,” with Jordan also producing and starring opposite Jamie Foxx.

Previously, she served as vice president of production at Paramount Pictures, which was followed by a stint leading original content development for digital video site Vimeo.


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