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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Universal's new black eye: African American actors disappear from 'Couples Retreat' poster

CouplesRetreatUS  It's perfectly normal for a Hollywood studio to revamp its marketing campaign when a film is released overseas. Every culture is a wee bit different, so marketing tweaks happen all the time. But Universal Pictures really goofed in a big way when it released a new poster for the U.K. release of its hit comedy, "Couples Retreat," which stars Vince Vaughn as one half of a couple who join three other couples on a holiday dedicated to improving everyone's marital relationships.

The original U.S. poster was a bit crowded, showing all eight featured actors in the film. So for the film's U.K. release, Universal's marketing wizards decided to simplify the poster by ... cutting out the film's black couple! All six white actors remain in the U.K. poster. But the actors playing the film's African American couple -- Faizon Love and Kali Hawk -- disappeared altogether. The U.K. poster keeps Vince Vaughn front and center -- after all, he's the star -- while moving the supporting white couples up more into the foreground. (You can read London Mail's story about the gaffe here.

No one at Universal is talking on the record, at least so far. But it's obvious that the studio wanted to simplify the poster -- the rule of thumb in marketing is the fewer faces on a poster, the CouplesretreatnewUK better. It's also obvious that the black actors were the least known members of the cast. Still, no one seemed to realize what a PR disaster would unfold if the only actors who were cut were the African American couple. After Universal was swamped by letters of complaint and negative U.K. press coverage, it quickly moved to quell the outrage by agreeing to return to its original poster with the full cast for future international releases. But the damage was done. Vivienne Pattison, director of Media Watch UK, told the Mail: "I think this was an ill-conceived move. We celebrate diversity in Britain and we could have coped with seeing the same poster used in America."

Studios make dumb decisions all the time. But I've talked to enough frustrated black filmmakers over the years to know the real underlying issue behind these kinds of gaffes. The decision-makers at studios are virtually all white, so they don't see potential racial slights in the same light as they would if they had someone -- anyone! -- of color in the executive suite. When I asked a Universal executive who its highest ranking African American marketing executive would be, he gave an honest answer, saying the studio would pull a zero. So, to be fair, would most other Hollywood studios. 

As always, the real solution to this kind of issue would be for Hollywood to find a way to hire a decent sampling of African American executives so its decision-making wouldn't look so clueless and out of touch with the diversity in the rest of our culture. Studio reps always tell me they are involved in all sorts of affirmative action campaigns. So maybe they're trying to do better, but I'm still waiting to see some concrete results.

Images: Top, the U.S. poster; below, the altered version for the U.K. 

Comments () | Archives (25)

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Of course, in the original poster, the supporting white cast are half the size of the leads, and the supporting black cast are half the size of the supporting white cast. In this blog entry I can't even make out their faces.

So even the 'right' poster is wrong.

i am a black person in the film industry. and basically, i do not see this issue as an issue of either racism or cluelessness. the reality is most african american actors minus halle berry and will smith have zero profile internationally.

while there are a lot of african american actors working in the u.s. most don't take the time to hire a publicist or whatever and profile themselves outside of the u.s. to be honest, the marketing people should've removed malin akerman and justin bateman too. the 2 african american actors were probably added to the u.s. poster just to try to target another demographic for this pathetic film.

"As always, the real solution to this kind of issue would be for Hollywood to find a way to hire a decent sampling of African American executives so its decision-making wouldn't look so clueless and out of touch with the diversity in the rest of our culture."

And if the new black inclusive movie executives goof on their marketing and offend Asians, the logical solution is to hire more Asians? What about Latinos? Europeans? That's gonna be one big council.

The solution offered by the LAT is an artificial one. Hollywood is going to make bad mistakes, whether the decision makers are homogenous or diverse in their racial makeup. Minorities know different ethnic groups offend each other ALL the time, true or not.

America is so obsessed with (racial) diversity visible on the surface, it's disturbing. If you place a dozen different ethnic groups in a single room, the place does not become "diverse" by default. Not if they all like the same food, same political ideology, same Lakers team, etc. Nor does an increase of blacks by 15% in a prestigious institution somehow point to progress made by blacks in general.

Besides, no one's gonna hire black executives only as a diversity consultant. Look at Tony Reagins and Arte Moreno. They're doing such a great job, the MSM hardly realizes that the Angels are ran by two minorities.

If they were not black, nothing would be said. Get over it. Take it up with the studio. Why make a federal case out of this?

The phrase "black eye" in the headline might be a play on words, but this African-American reader finds it offensive.

So what

This story begs the question of who is the highest ranking executive of color at the LA Times and/or Tribune corporate.

Movie studios have a long way to go but the news media is doing marginally better.

Oh come on! Marketing needs dictated a simpler poster, hence the removal of the two lesser known actors. That decision could have been made without even knowing the color of the actors in question. Must we micro-analyze everything from the race perspective?

Being way in the back in the original was not good enough. Americas cancer
is something a hundred Obama's couldn't cure.

Why does the media always coddles African Americans? Why aren't Asian and Latinos get represented? They are not even in most Hollyweird movies?

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