“Roma,” Alfonso Cuaron’s deeply personal coming-of-age drama, is also a love letter to Mexico City. The sprawling metropolis — its cobblestoned streets, fading movie palaces, and lush parks — is practically a central character in the story of a family grappling with love and loss.
Perhaps that’s the reason that “Roma” has been passionately embraced by Mexican audiences even as the country’s two largest theater chains, Cinepolis and Cinemex, refuse to screen the movie. The companies object to the fact that the movie is premiering on Netflix within weeks of its theatrical debut — a stance being echoed by major U.S. exhibitors such as AMC and Regal.
However, independent chains throughout the country have been clamoring to book the film. “Roma” is currently screening in nearly 100 Mexican theaters, double the number that the film’s producers expected would offer the movie. It’s also nearly as big a footprint as “Roma” is enjoying in the U.S. The film opened in Mexico on Nov. 21 in just six theaters, but after Cuaron put out a message on social media telling theaters interested in screening “Roma” to reach out directly, the numbers kept swelling.
“There is an immense amount of popular support for the movie,” said Gabriela Rodriguez, one of the film’s producers. “It’s hard to even compare it to something. Everybody loved [Cuaron’s previous film], ‘Gravity,’ but that was a big movie. This is more of an underground kind of thing.”
Netflix, as is its wont, declined to provide box office numbers. There are indications that sales are brisk. Rodriguez, who has been overseeing the theatrical rollout for the streaming service, said exhibitors tell her that they’re having sellout after sellout.
“One theater was running late with a showing so it offered audiences free dinner and tickets for another screening if they’d wait a day, and they refused,” she said. “It’s something of a phenomenon.”
Rodriguez and the “Roma” team said they’ve received over 800 requests from exhibitors, community groups, and educational institutions to screen the film. Some places have been turned down because they lack the equipment to play the film at Cuaron’s technical specifications. The filmmaker has been very specific about how he wants the movie projected and is exacting about the use of sound.
“Roma” debuts on Netflix globally on Dec. 14, but theaters have signaled to Rodriguez that they want to keep showing the movie even after it starts streaming.
“Nearly every cinema we’re working with wants to keep playing the movie,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve never experienced anything like this.”