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RACISM

Italian ‘Slave’ posters pulled in ‘racism’ storm

The US studio behind Golden Globe-nominated historical drama "12 Years a Slave," has asked the film's Italian distributors to withdraw posters which triggered an online storm over alleged racism.

Italian 'Slave' posters pulled in 'racism' storm
Photo: Francois Guillot/AFP

Lionsgate did not specify why it was asking for the publicity material to be pulled, but a source linked to the Italian distributors said they were in the process of removing "unauthorized" posters of the movie, tipped for glory in Hollywood's annual awards season.

The Italian posters feature large pictures of Hollywood A-lister Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender, who have relatively small parts in the movie, but barely show black actor Chiwetel Ejifor, who plays the main role.

Many online commentators pointed out that the posters simply used Pitt's and Fassbender's huge celebrity to sell the film.

But others saw darker motives, and the film's makers responded apparently to limit any reputational damage.

"The '12 Years A Slave' theatrical posters featuring Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender that were recently released in Italy were unauthorized and were not approved by any of the producers or licensors of the film," said Summit Entertainment, a Lionsgate subsidiary.

"Summit Entertainment, acting as exclusive sales agent for the licensors, is investigating and taking immediate action to stop the distribution of any unauthorized posters and to have those posters currently in the marketplace recalled," it added in a statement emailed to AFP by a Lionsgate spokesman.

The posters commissioned by Italian distributor BIM triggered a storm online, with some arguing they are racist in using photos of white stars to advertize a movie about a black character, who appears in almost every frame.

"REALLY? I don't remember Brad Pitt being the protagonist of the film or having such a pivotal role in the story to stay in the middle of the poster," said an Italy-based blogger on Tumblr called Carefree Black Girl.

"I sure don't know anything about marketing strategy to appeal audiences but isn't this going to far?" the blogger added.

Commenting on a Washington Post blog, Bfeely600 wrote: "I get that Brad Pitt is a recognizable star, yet I can't help but think once again that race plays a part."

On Twitter, actor-director David Eng wrote: "The folks who made the Italian 12 YEARS A SLAVE posters may not actually be racist.

"They just think all Italians are."

"12 Years a Slave" came equal first with crime caper "American Hustle" in nominations announced earlier this month for the Golden Globes, with seven nods apiece. It also topped nominees for the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) awards, and appears a likely frontrunner for the Oscars, which climax Hollywood's annual awards season on March 2nd.

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FILM

Venice Film Festival fights for impact amid coronavirus curbs and cancellations

What if you threw a film festival and nobody came?

Venice Film Festival fights for impact amid coronavirus curbs and cancellations
File photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP
That, in essence, is the challenge facing organisers of this year's Venice Film Festival, the glamorous annual competition where stars, critics, photographers and industry executives mingle on the bustling Lido, overlooking sandy beaches and the blue Adriatic.
   
Provided, of course, it's a normal year.
   
But in 2020, the world's oldest film festival is forced to walk a tightrope between preserving its lustre as the premier launch pad for Academy Award-winning films, while safely navigating the coronavirus crisis and averting the controversy over gender inequality that has dogged it in the past.
   
Opening Wednesday and continuing until September 12, the prestigious event now in its 77th year will be the first international film festival since the pandemic shuttered competitions around the world.
   
It has put in place a host of safety measures — from limited seating to thermal scanners, to a fan-free red carpet — to protect attendees as Covid-19 cases continue to climb in Italy and around the world.
   
In July, festival director Alberto Barbera declared the event “saved” as he announced the 18 films among the approximately 60 presented that would vie for the top award, the Golden Lion.
 
  
He promised that the festival would preserve the “liveliness of contemporary cinema”.
   
Despite its scaled-down size with theatre capacity reduced by about half, La Biennale di Venezia takes on greater importance this year due to the cancellation of rival film festivals across the globe, among them the glitzy Cannes Film Festival on the Cote d'Azur in France.
 
 
But just days ahead of the opening, organisers are scrambling to navigate uncharted territory amid uncertain attendance and last-minute cancellations.     
   
Whereas Brad Pitt, Meryl Streep and Scarlett Johansson provided the star firepower at last year's festival, ongoing travel restrictions — especially a travel ban from the United States into Europe — mean that most Hollywood elites will be no shows, along with actors and directors from China, India and South America.
   
Those arriving from outside Europe's Schengen zone will have to submit results of a Covid-19 test just before their departure, with a second test carried out in Venice, meaning that some attendees may have to cancel.
   
Earlier this week, the festival announced that American actor Matt Dillon would be a last-minute substitute on the jury for Romanian director Crisit Puiu.
   
No reason was given for Puiu's absence, but industry trade magazines noted he had given a speech earlier this month in which he said it was “inhumane” to watch movies with a mask on.
   
Those confirmed as attending include, among others, British actress Tilda Swinton, Spanish director Pedro Almodovar, US director Oliver Stone and Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen.
 
 
 
More women directors
 
The uncertain lineup of stars and dearth of top names leaves Australian actress Cate Blanchett, president of the jury, to take up the mantle of celebrity — and social activism — at Venice.
   
Blanchett was the leader of the #MeToo women's march up the red carpet steps at Cannes two years ago that sought to bring attention to the lack of parity and diversity in cinema.
   
The presence of Blanchett helps raise such awareness while the festival seeks to stanch criticism levelled in recent years over the glaring lack of women directors in festivals' top lineups.
 
The Oscar-winning headliner told Variety magazine on Thursday that this year's eight women directors in the main competition lineup of Venice is “a direct response to the positive advances that have been made this year”.
   
Others say it is too early to tell whether a page has turned.
   
“It's all about being consistent and diligent and believing that women make movies as well as men, and using that in the way you programme,” said Melissa Silverstein, founder and publisher of “Women and Hollywood”, which advocates for gender diversity and inclusion in film.
   
Last year's festival opened under controversy after the inclusion in the lineup of French-Polish director Roman Polanski, who fled the United States after his 1977 conviction of rape of a 13-year-old girl.
   
There were also only two female directors in the selection. In both 2018 and 2017, only one female director was represented.   
 
Blanchett said more was riding on the jury's decisions this year, given the limited opportunities for filmmakers to show their work publicly, due to the coronavirus closures.
   
“So, whatever the deliberations the jury will make will be more impactful. I don't take that responsibility or privilege lightly.”
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