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Either Universal is Racist or Stars DO Matter

By Miscellaneous | Miscellaneous | November 16, 2009 |

By Miscellaneous | Miscellaneous | November 16, 2009 |

Stacey already pointed to the story in today’s Pajiba Love, so I’m sure you all are aware of the UK Couples Retreat poster controversy. Black actors (Faizon Love and Kali Hawk) appear on the U.S. one-sheet, but not on the design initially used for international marketing. And obviously that’s an act of racism, right?

Unless it’s understood that stars sell a movie, in which case Universal is apparently justified for wanting to “simplify” its posters outside America by highlighting the six biggest, or in their words, “most recognizable,” names (Vince Vaughn, Malin Ackerman, Kristen Bell, Jon Fareau, Jason Bateman and Kristin Davis).

Unfortunately, in the same week this outrage occurred, Reuters chose to revisit the whole “stars don’t matter” issue based on recent disappointments from A-list vehicles and successes of star-less movies. This argument kind of disputes Universal’s defense.

Even if you bring up the fact that in many foreign markets stars do actually still count for something, the omission of Love and Hawk is nonetheless objectionable. However, I’d just like to point out that Jean Reno got the shaft on both posters, at least visually (he at least gets a credit on both version). In the logic of the other outcries, I’m calling Universal out for believing the whole world hates the French more than some territories hate black people.

And now for the roundup of film blog commentary on the issue:

  • Tambay at Shadow and Act [posted over two months ago]:
    “I can’t think of any reason to remove them from the international poster, can you? Other than a fear that they might actually deter international audiences from seeing the film; or, the characters are so inconsequential to the story that their presence on the poster isn’t necessary. Then why put them on the American poster if that were the case? As I started this post asking, does this only go to further encourage that infamous industry belief that movies with black people in them don’t sell overseas?”
  • Adam K. Raymond at Vulture:
    “British media-watchdogs and moviegoers complained and now the studio has decided to discontinue the poster. Not that there isn’t an upside to this piece of horrible PR. On a weekend when Couples Retreat made $4 million, we’re writing about it!”

  • Jeffrey Wells at Hollywood Elsewhere:
    “From an art direction standpoint, the British poster is obviously less crowded and more pleasing to the eye.”
  • Matt Holmes at Obsessed with Film:
    “Hands up anyone in the U.K. who know who Faizon Love and/or Kali Hawk are without having to check IMDB (or I bet in some cases, even after checking IMDB)?

    I thought not. […]

    The U.K. one is definitely the better poster but I don’t believe Universal are playing racists by the marketing. And the decision to scrap the U.K. poster from future international territories, I believe, is more to stop the agro than an admission of guilt, because really, they have nothing to be guilty about…”

  • Eric D. Snider at Cinematical:
    “Why did Universal think they had to remove a couple? The poster with all eight characters did fine in America. Why change it? Do international audiences reject movies that appear to have too many characters? Is ‘clutter’ a big complaint among British poster aficionados? If nothing else, someone at Universal should have realized that removing the black couple — even if race had nothing to do with it — would at least look sketchy. You’d think that as bad as the movie is, they’d be extra careful not to turn off any potential viewers with their marketing.”
  • The Playlist:
    “Uhh, but it was ok that Love and Hawk were just a marginalized, almost non-existent, throw-away blip on the original version, right? Where was the outrage about that?

    The answer: there was none, because as long as people are ‘represented’ somewhere it’s ok, right? More likely people didn’t notice whether they were on or off the original poster.

    The fact is people need content, but making a fuss about this now seems even more insulting, frankly.”

  • Gabe Delahaye at Videogum:
    “Although, Universal’s defense is pretty thin. They wanted to ‘simplify’ things for an international audience? Whoops, international audience, that is your simplification! Oh, wait, you mean the international audience who doesn’t understand what huge stars Faizon Love and Kali Hawk are? I mean, in America, you put Faizon Love and Kali Hawk on a movie poster and you might as well just print money, but in the International market, you have to appeal to a different audience. Sarcasm! No offense to Faizon Love and Kali Hawk, but I’m sure they know that they are not huge movie stars. We’re all adults here.”
  • S.T. VanAirsdale at Movieline:
    “While a Universal rep explained that its intention was ‘to simplify the poster to actors who are most recognisable in international markets,’ acknowledged the indelicacy of its honky-rific European campaign under the circumstances. But did it have to apologize? After all, Hawk had a pretty rational explanation of the film’s poster politics when she spoke last month to Movieline:
    [Y]ou know how you see on the poster, how I’m on it and my name is big? For most people, that billing was in their contract. My character started out so small and I had such a small agent at the time that I didn’t really have any negotiating power. After I got the movie and they saw what I could do, Vince [Vaughn] would actually write more scenes for me to do while we were shooting it, so getting on the poster and getting that star billing, that came later and that came from Vince, one of the producers on it.”
  • Janet Shan at The Hinterland Gazette:
    “Somehow I don’t buy the studio’s lame excuse. How come it was the black couple who was inadvertently left out of the marketing material? I’m sure Malin Akerman isn’t known the world over.”
  • Vince Mancini at FilmDrunk:
    “Still, no word on why they felt the need to add in all those clouds and palm trees in the background.  Oh I’m sorry, was the mountain too uppity for you?  They’re also lucky they didn’t go with the original tagline, ‘It may be paradise, but it’s no vacation because black people are here.’”
  • Adrian Chen at Defamer:
    “Who Gives a Shit, the Movie is Terrible!
    Love and Hawk should say a silent prayer of thanks for being left out of the poster, racist-ly or not. Maybe this way everyone will eventually forget they were in ‘Couples Retreat,’ and their nascent careers won’t be killed by starring in a film Time magazine calls ‘just sad.’”
  • Kyle Buchanan at Movieline:
    “The truth is that in the world of Couples Retreat, something much, much worse than the poster controversy happened this weekend, and nobody seems to be saying a thing about it.

    Quietly, as Saturday figures were released, the critically reviled comedy passed the $100 million mark — an impressive hold that indicates that the movie will have no trouble tallying a domestic gross that’s well over three times its opening weekend. The makers of Guitar Hero are so psyched right now!”

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