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12 Years a Slave Actress Boycotts Italian Premiere Due to Racism

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Lupita Nyong’o

Lupita Nyong’o

By Connie K. Grier

There are absences from movie premieres that go unnoticed and unheard.  This absence, though occurring across the sea, may be speaking volumes at home.

According to a report from The Root, Lupita Nyong’o, the breakout star from the film, 12 Years A Slave who portrayed the character “Patsey” in the film, declined to attend the film’s premiere in Capri, Italy, citing “other commitments” that would prevent her attending.  Additionally, the article also states that Lionsgate Films has shared that none of the movies actors will be in attendance at the premiere.  It’s a rarity for there to be no stars from the film available to attend a premiere

The blockbuster docudrama depicts the trials of a free black man from upstate New York who was kidnapped and sold into slavery.  Foreign advertisement for the film has been at the center of a maelstrom of criticism.  In America, the film was billed with the protagonist Chiwetel Ejiofor as the lead character and his personage graced media advertising for the film.  In Italy, advertising for the film highlights actors Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender as the top billers, which according to The Root has caused protest and charges of racism against the Italian distributor of the film.  One of the cited issues with the Italian advertising revolves around the placement of Brad Pitt front and center on a movie advertisement; being visually promoted as a lead character with Ejiofor was placed down in the corner of the same advertisement.  While Pitt’s character “Bass” was an important one in terms of Ejiofor’s “Solomon” gaining his freedom; the essence of the film which focuses on the inhumane nature of kidnapping, human trafficking, and enslavement does not feature Pitt prominently placed.  The Root shares that the Italian advertisements were immediately recalled, and the Italian distributor, BIM Distribuzione, issued an apology for the “inappropriate materials.”

So, does this point to marketing created due to the belief that overseas; African Americans cannot “sell” a film, and the marketer deserves no censure for marketing as deemed necessary or does it go deeper than that?  Does it go to a point where unless you are an actor that is making them roll in the aisles, or you happen to be Will Smith or Morgan Freeman, you cannot be perceived as the lead, even in movies where you character is the central character?