Wednesday, January 8, 2014


 First came the standing ovations, the critical praise and the almost unanimous predictions that the
movie, the stars and the director are on the fast track towards Oscar nominations.
 Now, several months after Steve McQueen's latest movie 12 Years a Slave was unveiled to audiences at the Telluride andToronto Film Festivals, the critical acclaim is still coming – not least in the form of a hefty seven Golden Globes nominations. But so, too is a marketing backlash which could affect the movie's performance in most European and South American countries, where it has not yet been released. 
 The £16 million movie, based on a true story, is set in the pre-Civil War United States and stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup, a free black man who is abducted and sold into slavery. It depicts the evils of slavery in brutally unflinching ways, which has prompted analysts and marketing experts to predict that it is likely to have a tough job finding audiences.
 Scenes of stunning cruelty include whips ripping the flesh off backs; women being raped and mutilated; men, women and children being stripped naked and inspected like chattel and, later, lynched with impunity. It is not sort of subject matter to attract people who go to the cinema for a couple of hours of escapism.
 In an attempt to play down the harsher aspects of the film, Fox Searchlight, its distributor, has been screening television advertisements featuring Brad Pitt, whose company co-produced the film and who has a small role as a benevolent abolitionist who takes a great risk so that justice might be done. Other advertisements play up the slave’s determination and humanity, and the studio is touting endorsements from black entertainers Kanye West and Sean “Diddy” Coombs.
 But the movie and its director received some unwelcome publicity when the New York Film Critics' Circle's most infamous critic, Armond White, a writer for CityArts, berated McQueen when he took the stage at the group's awards dinner this week to accept his best director award. 
 The African-American critic yelled, “You’re an embarrassing doorman and garbage man! Kiss my ass.”
 He also reportedly yelled “White liberal bullshit!” at the stage during McQueen’s remarks about “12 Years a Slave,” which White had ripped in a review stating that the film “belongs to the torture porn genre with ‘Hostel,’ ‘The Human Centipede’ and the ‘Saw’ franchise but it is being sold (and mistaken) as part of the recent spate of movies that pretend ‘a conversation about race.’”

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