Clemency – Marketing Recap

How NEON is selling a drama about the mental toll felt by those managing our overwhelmed prison system.

clemency posterAlfre Woodard stars in this week’s new release Clemency. She plays Bernadine Williams, a woman who for years has served as warden at a prison where death row inmates are housed and ultimately executed. In the leadup to yet another execution, Williams begins to struggle with the emotional weight of everything that’s happened on her watch and forcing her to create a stronger connection with the man about to have his fate sealed.

In a week where this is one of two movies about the realities of the criminal justice system – the other being Just Mercy – NEON has run a campaign that emphasizes Woodard’s performance as an emotionally-drained bureaucrat.

The Posters

The sole theatrical one-sheet (by marketing agency Legion Creative Group) has Williams looking tired and somber against a muted blue background. The bottom half of her body is coming apart, flitting away from her in the form of black doves. It’s some heavy symbolism, designed to show how her job is chipping away at who she is, pieces represented by twisted versions of birds normally associated with peace.

The Trailers

Williams is pragmatic about needing to just do her job in the first trailer (56,000 views on YouTube), released in September. She knows some people see her as part of the problem, but she makes it clear she tries to help the men on death row who move through her prison. No one on either side of the issue understand the position she’s in or the isolation she feels doing a difficult, almost impossible thing repeatedly, but she knows someone has to.

Online and Social

NEON gives the movie a good but not great site, with the standard marketing materials along with the “Social Assets” it usually offers.

Advertising and Publicity

A first look still from the movie was released at the same time it was announced it would be screening at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. The positive buzz that was built up from those screenings was significant, with many calling it the highlight of the festival before it went on to win the Grand Jury Prize. Still, it wasn’t until over a month later that it was picked up by NEON.

In late July it was announced the movie would get yet another festival screening, this time at the Toronto International Film Festival. Woodard was scheduled to be honored when the movie was shown at the Hamptons International Film Festival.

Closer to release the studio hosted a handful of screenings, often accompanied by Q&As with the cast and crew, to drum up word of mouth and reach a motivated audience.

Media and Publicity

While at Sundance Chukwu was interviewed about the events that inspired the story as well as how much research she did into the prison system so that every detail was as correct as she could make it.

Hodge was interviewed about the research he did in preparing for the role, including visiting prisoners at San Quentin.

An interview with Woodard had her talking about her own research for her role as the prison’s warden and the responsibility she felt to tell an important story. She and Hodge appeared together on “The Daily Show” to talk about the movie.

Overall

Clemency is likely to get lost in the wake of other, bigger movies, but given the continued conversation about the flawed prison system in the United States – including news the Department of Justice wants to bring Federal executions back – it seems like an important addition to that discussion.

It’s just too bad there wasn’t a bigger push for the movie. While there were certainly a number of interviews recently and the decision to hold screenings with interested groups is a good one, it would have been nice if the filmmakers had been given a bit more visibility to weigh in on the story and characters.

Still, it’s hard to argue with any campaign that puts Woodard at the forefront like this, so at the end it’s a winning strategy.

Picking Up the Spare

An interview with Woodard and Hodge about the quick production schedule and their work in some emotional sequences.

How Chukwu invested herself into the story was covered in this interview.

Juanita – Marketing Recap

juanita posterSo many stories of being fed up with circumstances and leaving to change them focus on younger adults and kids. Juanita, out from Netflix this week, instead tells a similar story but from the perspective of the title character – played by Alfre Woodard – a mother and grandmother who is burnt out by the demands of her life and the ungrateful nature of those around her.

Fed up and ready for a change, Juanita gets on a Greyhound bus and winds up in a small Montana town. She thinks it’s just a waypoint to some other destination, but when she starts schooling the staff of a local diner on real cooking and gets involved with the chef there she finds herself beginning to settle down once more, just in a more authentic way.

The Posters

The wanderlust nature of the story is made clear in the copy “You can’t find yourself if you never get lost.” That appears above a photo of Woodard that’s in front of a map of Montana, communicating that the character she plays is heading on a journey of some kind.

The Trailers

The viewer is thrown for a loop when the first trailer opens with Juanita in the middle of a fantasy involving Blair Underwood. When she’s startled back to reality she’s dealing with her daughter pawning off her granddaughter on her for the evening so the younger one can go out. Frustrated by a life that’s going nowhere she abandons everything and heads to Montana, where she ruffles feathers at a small diner, quickly commandeering the kitchen. Her romance with the chef is an unforeseen complication, but one she won’t let tie her down.

 

Online and Social

Nope, which is standard for Netflix.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Still nothing.

Media and Publicity

Netflix acquired the movie in 2017, around the time production began, and it’s apparently been sitting around since. Perhaps the timing of release is Netflix playing off Woodard’s well-regarded turn in Clemency, in which she also stars, appearing at Sundance a couple months ago.

Woodard did limited interviews, at least to date, for the movie, though some of that may simply be the result of the press cycle being dominated by a massive super hero film coming out this week.

Overall

It’s a decent little campaign for a movie that is finally being released after a couple years in limbo. Woodard is certainly the main draw here as it’s a story that isn’t too far afield from what we’ve seen before in other films. But the marketing promises to take us on a journey along with Juanita, one that seems pleasantly entertaining even if it isn’t all that surprising.