Bad news from Italy, where a series of posters issued for the Italian release of 12 Years a Slave have been featuring white supporting stars like Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender, rather than the actual star of the film, Chiwetel Ejiofor. While Pitt and Fassbender’s heads float massively in the foreground, the small shape of Ejiofor running is tacked on like an afterthought below. Have a look for yourself:
There are ways to explain away the uncomfortable racial undertones here—maybe the poster distributor thought Brad Pitt’s international fame would be a bigger draw, despite the fact that he has about five minutes of screen time, and maybe Fassbender’s turn in X-Men makes him more of a global icon—but the rationalizaitons sound a little too much like wishful thinking. And really, when the worst-case scenario is racism and the best-case scenario is extreme marketing dishonesty, nobody wins.
Variety reports that Lionsgate is recalling the posters, which they claim were unauthorized and unapproved by any producers or licensors of the film. (The U.S. poster featured the image of Ejiofor running.) And BIM, the Italian distributor responsible for the posters, did itself no favors with the response. As reported by IndieWire, a company employee joked that he would have “simply titled the film Slave with a BDSM black patent leather clad woman in high heels whipping the main character on the poster.” BIM has since apologized for the poster snafu, but, wow. Really poor job on the sensitivity there, guys.