Author Antoinette Nwandu debuted her latest play at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater last year. Now, via director Spike Lee, Pass Over is coming to Amazon Prime this week in a feature adaptation that retains the theatrical conceit.
The story follows two young black men in Chicago who are just hanging out on a street corner talking about their dreams for the future and not causing a single bit of trouble. Moses (Jon Michael Hill) and Kitch (Julian Parker) are long-time friends and residents of the neighborhood. The story follows how, staying on that one corner, their routine of talking about “passing over” from one phase of their lives to the next is interrupted by a series of events involving a stranger who’s not from the area, the intrusion of an aggressively bullying cop and other events.
A drawing of two figures standing on a street corner at the intersection of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. and 64th St. is the main image on the poster, those elements in a greenish blue against a red background. The movie’s Sundance credentials are displayed along with the copy, apparently conveying the sentiment of the characters, saying “We gotta git off da block.”
Wow, the trailer is powerful. At first Moses and Kitch are just hanging out and shooting the shit, talking about how they have to get out of their neighborhood and start over somewhere fresh. Things start to turn south when they hear gunshots. From there on out they’re being subjected to unwarranted police scrutiny, reflections from clueless white people on how to fix their lives and other torment.
If the point is to convey how hopeless the situation is for people in this situation, how they’re kept down by forces bigger than themselves, it works spectacularly. I also think the “black box theater” production style works to augment that message, stripping everything but the characters and the barest of backgrounds away. We’re not hung up on where the story is taking place, just that it is.
Online and Social
Oddly, there’s no presence for the movie on the official Amazon Studios site. Even the studios’ social profiles have given it very little support, though there were both Twitter and Facebook profiles for the movie itself. Amazon seems to have been too occupied in promoting some other movies and given it didn’t really launch a campaign for this one until just a couple weeks ago it hasn’t been doing a lot of online promotion. Perhaps the short shrift being given is due to this being the rare Amazon film release to go directly to streaming without theatrical distribution.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
Nothing I’ve seen or am aware of.
Media and Publicity
The movie had some publicity before this but enjoyed a big moment when it screened at the Sundance Film Festival to decent reviews and buzz. After that it was also screened at the SXSW Film Festival.
Prior to that the play had garnered a significant amount of attention in Chicago following its debut. Relevant to the movie were press reports that Lee was in the city and attending the play but details of what he was involved with didn’t come out until later. Months before that when the play’s Steppenwolf run began it was at the center of a Chicago media controversy involving the racially dismissive comments of a Sun-Times theater critic, a tempest that brought increased attention to the production.
There hasn’t been, at least not as of this writing, any follow up media push to build on the buzz that came out of Sundance or otherwise raise the audience’s awareness of the movie. Lee has instead been the focus of reports that his next movie is going to Cannes.
It’s too bad the movie isn’t getting a bigger push because it seems, sadly, all-too-relevant given recent reports of black men arrested in a Starbucks for no offense other than being black. That’s more or less, at least based on the marketing, exactly what the story is about.
That being said, this push is about on the same scale as those given by Netflix for its streaming originals. The small scale of the campaign may be due to that it’s bypassing theaters and so Amazon isn’t investing a lot of promotional cash. It might be because not only the subject matter and black-box theater style would make it a “difficult” sell. Or it might just be because Amazon is putting its chips elsewhere.
While I obviously haven’t seen the film itself, the marketing sells a powerful, vital story that’s timely and would be good for a larger audience to see. It will be interesting to see if Amazon gives this any on-site promotion to bring more eyeballs to it once it’s available to stream.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.
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