'12 Years A Slave' Poster in Italy Emphasizes Film's White Stars While Diminishing Black Lead

The Italian promotional campaign has come under fire for marginalizing its black star.

“12 Years A Slave,” the Oscar front-runner that is near the top of numerous Best-Of-Year lists, is being promoted in Italy as a film which stars Brad Pitt. 

The posters for the film’s Italian release show the film’s star, Chiwetel Ejiofor—who is getting a major push for his star turn in the thick of awards season—strangely marginalized to the bottom right-hand corner, while the film’s executive producer and minor supporting star, Brad Pitt, is billed front, center and huge. Still other posters feature white actor Michael Fassbender, who plays a slave owner, with the actor who plays the character the film is actually about tiny. 

A spokesperson for Lionsgate—whose subsidiary, Summit Entertainment, is responsible for all of the film’s overseas distribution and marketing—released a statement regarding the posters, disavowing any responsibility for the white-skewed promotional campaign. The film’s Italian distributor, BIM, is said to have created the posters.

The Italian posters “were unauthorized and were not approved by any of the producers or licensors of the film,” Summit Entertainment said in a statement, which also promised that the company is “investigating and taking immediate action to…have those posters currently in the marketplace recalled.”

The state-side print campaign features Ejiofor in a full-body profile shot against a white backdrop, with no other characters from the film presented. The Italian posters, meanwhile, feature Pitt (as well as co-star Michael Fassbender) hovering above a field, with Ejiofor dwarfed below. The poster was photographed and shared virally through a tumblr account, Carefree Black Girl, and was contextualized as another example of film’s requiring nonwhite actors to carry American films across foreign markets. 

While Summit has fairly denied responsibility (print campaigns for non-summer blockbusters are, often, designed by in-house teams dedicated strictly to the foreign market, with little oversight from the American side) it is nevertheless a troubling example of Hollywood’s still tumultuous relationship with racial representation—exemplified even more audaciously through a film about slavery that places visual emphasis on white cast members. Neither the film’s star or black director, Steve McQueen  has made a public statement about the ruckus. 


Rod Bastanmehr is a freelance writer in New York City. Follow him on Twitter @rodb.

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