Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Italian company pulls 12 Years a Slave posters that emphasize white actors

Actor Brad Pitt arrives for the 12 Years a Slave screening at the 38th Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto September 6, 2013.


Italian moviegoers have to accept the truth: Brad Pitt is not the star of 12 Years a Slave.

As reported in The Hollywood Reporter, BIM Distribuzione, the Italian distributor for 12 Years a Slave, has recalled and apologized for movie posters that put the spotlight on white stars Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender rather than Chiwetel Ejiofor, the real star of the film.

The retraction came shortly after the movie posters stirred up a firestorm on social media, with many critics decrying the posters as racist.

Story continues below advertisement

For the record, Fassbender has a supporting role in 12 Years a Slave, as does Pitt, who also served as one of the film's producers.

Ejiofor is the real star of the film and has already received a Golden Globe acting nomination for his portrayal of a freed African-American man who is abducted and sold into slavery.

Pictures of the misleading movie posters in theatres in Italy, where 12 Years opens in February, were recently circulated on Twitter and Instagram and earned an overwhelmingly negative reaction.

Among other comments, Tyler Ashton Dixon (@REELmeaning) tweeted: "Whoever went to see 12 years a slave knows that this poster is preposterous."

Or this comment from Simba Rodze (@Simba_AR): "12 years a slave posters in Italy don't feature the black actor who's actually the main character. For shame Italy."

The most widely circulated photograph of the contentious marketing campaign shows a lobby poster dominated by a large head shot of Pitt with flowing hair, while a tiny likeness of Ejiofor is shown running just below his chin.

In the early stages of the controversy, BIM Distribuzione attempted to defend the posters featuring Pitt and Fassbender, saying they were "giving wide representation of what is told in the film itself."

Story continues below advertisement

Also weighing in on the controversy was the Hollywood studio Summit Entertainment, which is handling overseas distribution for 12 Years and naturally attempted to distance itself from the gaffe.

"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," read the carefully worded statement.

The inevitable conclusion to the controversy was a complete marketing campaign reset leading to the removal of the offending posters from theatre lobbies.

"All inappropriate materials have now been withdrawn," read the statement from BIM. "We are very proud of the film and regret any distraction this incident may have caused."

According to reports in the Italian media, the new posters for 12 Years a Slave will focus primarily on Ejiofor's role in the film.

Report an error Licensing Options

The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

Please note that our commenting partner Civil Comments is closing down. As such we will be implementing a new commenting partner in the coming weeks. As of December 20th, 2017 we will be shutting down commenting on all article pages across our site while we do the maintenance and updates. We understand that commenting is important to our audience and hope to have a technical solution in place January 2018.

Discussion loading… ✨