[Editorial Note: I’ll be honest, I must have gotten my dates mixed up. In early September HBO announced an October release date for the movie, putting out a new trailer that took a more dramatic take on Mouse’s story. It hit a lot of the same notes but upped the angst he seems to be balancing as well as making the dreams he’s chasing a bit more clear. Below is the original marketing recap published in August. –CT]
How HBO Max is selling a story of following a dream to make your mark.
Just what someone will do to make the intolerable tolerable seems to form the core of the story in this week’s new release Charm City Kings. The movie stars Jahi Di’Allo Winston as Mouse, a young kid growing up in Baltimore whose options for the rest of his life are limited. Because they’re the coolest people in the neighborhood, Mouse idolizes those in The Midnight Clique, one of the dirt bike gangs who come out every summer. That he’s too young and doesn’t have the money to get his own bike to join them are small matters to Mouse, who refuses to be deterred, even if it means he has to do things that are dangerous.
The movie then is about Mouse’s conflict in choosing whether to do whatever is necessary to achieve his dream or be the law-abiding young man his family and friends want him to be.
The campaign for the film has been a disjointed affair, thanks in large part to a recent shift in release plans, to the extent that it’s lost a lot of momentum and could completely pass audiences by.
Just one poster, released in February, so it still sports Sony’s branding at the bottom. The overall design features Blax (Meek Mill) looking out over the dirt bike racing action that’s happening below him. Copy reads “3 kings. 2 choices. 1 summer.” in order to establish the overall dynamic between the characters and the situations they will face over the course of the story.
In mid-January the teaser trailer (now unavailable) was released, introducing us to Mouse as it opens. He has aspirations of joining a team of dirt bike riders who race along the city streets, but not only is it dangerous but his mother forbids him from doing so because that’s how his older brother died. The spot shows the rough world Mouse lives in and the things he does because of that environment.
The second trailer, released in early March, offers much more explanation of the story. It starts with Mouse sharing his aspirations to join the biggest biking group in the area, something he feels he’s old enough and good enough to do. When his attempts to get a bike of his own through legitimate methods don’t work out he takes up other, illegal tactics. That gets him in a fair amount of trouble but he’s focused on his goals and so does what he feels he has to.
Online and Social
Nothing here, including what seems to be a complete lack of support for the movie on HBO Max’s brand social accounts. Even the URL featured on the first poster has been taken down completely, redirecting to a DNS server.
Advertising and Promotions
With the debut screening scheduled for the Sundance Film Festival, Sony Pictures Classics acquired distribution rights for the movie. It won the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Ensemble Cast at Sundance. As that festival was winding down the news came it would later screen at the Miami Film Festival. A planned appearance at SXSW was cancelled when that festival was scrapped.
In early May news broke that the movie had been sold by Sony to HBO Max, becoming one of the new streaming platform’s handful of original features at launch. Sony’s original release plans had been shut down when the Covid-19 outbreak shuttered most theaters, with the studio pulling it from the schedule at that time.
Media and Press
The cast and crew spoke about the movie and its story while at Sundance, including how they hoped the story would be seen as universal to kids everywhere.
Cinematographer Katelin Arizmendi was interviewed about her attempts to bring a starkly realistic look to the film and its environment.
Since then there’s been almost nothing.
It’s striking how in some very real ways the campaign simply doesn’t exist. Both of the trailers were taken off of Sony’s YouTube channel and HBO Max never reuploaded them after it acquired the film. So the only apparent “official” versions of the trailer are those shared by co-star Meek Mill and producer Will Smith. Add that to the fact that there’s no website and no apparent social support and it’s almost like the movie is intentionally being given as little attention as possible.
That’s a shame because it came out of Sundance like a rocket, with a fair amount of positive buzz that made it out to be a movie people shouldn’t miss, which is part of the reason Sony scooped it up. That Covid-19 pandemic, though, seems to have thrown a wrench in those gears and it’s now coming out with nary a whimper and with much of its past marketing efforts erased.