Youngblood Priest (Trevor Jackson) has come up through the ranks of the Atlanta gang he belongs to in the new movie Superfly, a remake of the 1972 classic. He’s used the power he’s attained to help the people in his city, especially those who can’t help themselves, and is a respected figure in the community.
A series of events, including the appearance of a violent upstart contender to the throne, lead Priest to conclude it’s time for him to retire. But to do that he needs to pull off one more score. To do that, though, means double-crossing his mentor, a prospect that has tremendous upside but also tremendous risks.
Jackson as the title character is the sole figure on the first poster, shown in a black and white photo with only a small pop of gold used on the head of the cane he’s holding horizontally, a city balanced on either side of his hands. That tells us this is a powerful figure who in some way is fighting for control of the city. The tagline “Redefine the hustle” reinforces that idea.
The theatrical poster zooms in so Jackson’s face is seen only partially, looking down introspectively. His long black leather trench coat is covered in images both peaceful – birds and flowers – and violent, including guns, scenes of bloodshed and more. It’s an image meant to convey the dual aspects of his personality and show the conflict within him.
Interestingly, the first teaser trailer is preceded by a full minute of cast and crew interviews about the history of hip-hop, the style of the movie and more. Once the footage starts we get shots of Atlanta as we hear Youngblood narrate how he’s worked hard every day of his life to achieve the kind of power he has now and will keep working hard to keep it, not getting caught up in the trappings of success. He’s got money and women and luxurious possessions, but danger is around every corner.
I kind of dig this idea of featurettes as teasers. Outside of that this looks like a compelling story that’s been updated to say something new using familiar characters. Also note the specific callout of the soundtrack being produced by Future, another sign that these albums are just as important as the movies themselves in defining and reflecting the culture they’re released into.
The official trailer gives us a better idea of Youngblood’s history as well as his ambition. He’s out there as a service to his community as well as to provide a lavish lifestyle for himself. All of that is threatened when a new, ruthless crew comes in and starts going after him and those around him. So he sets out for one last score before getting out of the life, quickly getting in over his head.
Online and Social
Sony launched a pretty decent official website for the movie. When you pull up the site the splash page offers links to the film’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles and the chance to buy tickets. Also prominent on that page is mention of the Future-produced soundtrack.
That soundtrack gets even more play here in the “Music” section of the site, which offers links to buy or stream the album on your platform of choice. That comes after “About,” where there’s more information on the filmmaking talent than the actual story, but before the “Gallery” of a handful of production stills.
Finally on the site there’s a link to “Create a Superfly Photo,” a tool that lets you pick something about yourself that “makes you fly,” upload a picture and generate a downloadable image you can use on social media.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
There have been a number of paid social ads that have used the trailers when they were released. Online ads have used the key art of Priest holding the gun. Sony also ran a few TV spots like this that boiled down the value proposition of the movie to a story of ambition and violence with a sympathetic anti-hero. The studio also arranged for sponsored content on Vice that included an interview with Director X.
Media and Publicity
Sony brought footage from the film to the industry trade show CinemaCon, where it was called out as being part of the studio’s increasingly diverse slate of films. At the same time a substantial profile of Director X allowed him to talk about the story he was aiming to tell with the movie, how he got involved with the project and lots more. The movie was later announced as the opening night title at the American Black Film Festival.
Director X was really the focal point of the publicity campaign, with him appearing at CinemaCon to hype up the movie, talking about certain choices he made, the approach he took when updating a classic of the “Blaxploitation” genre of the 70s and more.
Jackson and other members of the cast did make the rounds, of course, to talk about fashion, his tattoos, and other topics including the movie itself. He and costar Michael K. Williams showed up on “Drop the Mic” to engage in a rap battle, too.
There was also a lot of attention paid, particularly in the last two weeks, to the news Future was curating and producing the movie’s soundtrack. In that effort he enlisted a lot of heavy hitters of the hip hop and rap genres. His music is heavily featured in the trailers and, as we saw, a big part of the official website. He released a video for “No Shame” shortly after the announcement.
There’s a really good vibe to the campaign, helped immensely by the consistent use of Future’s music in most every aspect of the push. Even beyond that, though, Jackson is a substantial presence on screen and sells a Priest that is both sure of who he is and torn between his darker and better angels, wanting to use the power he has to help people but also aware of what it takes to attain and retain that power as well as how it will always put a target on his back.
Right now the movie is projected to open somewhere in the $10m range, but if some good word of mouth comes along it could go higher than that, though it’s up against significant mass audience competition with The Incredibles 2 this weekend. The studio clearly hopes this does well and unlike something like Proud Mary earlier this year I don’t think you can accuse Sony of trying to bury it. We’ll see if it catches on and with whom.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.