Brad Pitt makes only a minutes’-long appearance in the critically-acclaimed film “12 Years a Slave,” but his face occupies most of the film’s Italian promotional poster — to the enormous consternation of social media pundits in Italy and around the world.
— Africa is a Country (@AfricasaCountry) December 23, 2013
The film, which stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as a freedman-turned-slave in 19th-century Louisiana and premiered in the U.S. in August, will reach Italian theaters in February. In advance of the film, the Italian distributor BIM Distribuzione has released a number of posters — including one very similar to the American poster, which shows Ejiofor running in front of a bright white background.
But BIM is apparently distributing other posters, as well, these ones depicting a larger-than-life close-up of either Pitt or Michael Fassbender’s face as Ejiofor runs under it. The posters, first spotted by bloggers on Tumblr, appear legit: @BIMFilm retweeted a crop of the Brad Pitt version, originally published by a major Italian film magazine, earlier this month.
— CIAK (@ciakmag) December 5, 2013
What explains Ejiofor’s diminished role? The most benign answer is that Pitt and Fassbender are vastly more recognizable stars in Italy, and thus more likely to drive ticket sales. (Ejiofor, on the other hand, has appeared in only a handful of major films — the last one, “2012,” screened in Italy a full four years ago.)
But the more common answer, at least among social media pundits, is that Italy has a long, grim history of racism and racial tension, which has only become more pronounced with recent waves of immigration. The country was frequently in the headlines over the summer, for instance, after protesters threw bananas at the country’s first black government minister, Cécile Kyenge. “Why is Italy So Racist?” The Guardian asked at the time.
We’ll have a better idea of BIM’s motivations when “12 Years” debuts in Italy on Feb. 20 and Italians head to the theaters. (Or don’t.) There’s no question that the film has been a smashing success, though: It’s been nominated for a pile of Golden Globes and SAG Awards, and the Post’s Ann Hornaday called it a “masterpiece of form, content, emotion and performance” when it hit American theaters in October.