The Glorias – Marketing Recap

How Amazon Studios sold a biopic about a key feminist leader.

There are few people who had a bigger impact on American history in the 20th century than Gloria Steinem, and few actors who have a more stellar track record of outstanding performances than Julianne Moore. That makes it a natural fit for the latter to play the former, which is exactly what happens in the new film The Glorias.

It’s not just Moore, though. In the film, directed by Julie Taymor, that spans Steinem’s life from youth through her 40s, she’s also portrayed at various points by Alicia Vikander, Lulu Wilson, Ryan Kiera Armstrong and even Steinem herself. Based on her own memoir, the story follows the icon from her childhood through her career as a writer and into her role as a political and cultural activist fighting for women’s rights in the post-WWII era.

The movie has bounced around a few studios due to the coronavirus pandemic and the scheduling issues it’s created but comes to Amazon Prime today with a 72% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The Posters

Just one poster (by marketing agency LA), which came out earlier this month. It shows two of the versions of Steinem featured in the film – those portrayed by Moore and Vikander – along with costar Janelle Monáe as Dorothy Pittman Hughes, who along with Steinem founded both Ms. Magazine and The Women’s Action Alliance. Her inclusion here seems highly intentional not just because of Monáe’s stardom but also because of the criticism often leveled at mainstream feminism, that it is primarily aimed at and designed for white women. Along with those individuals, the poster features a collage of key cultural artifacts such as the first Ms. Magazine cover, an Equal Rights Amendment button and some of Steinem’s media headlines.

The Trailers

The teaser trailer (430,000 views on YouTube), released at the beginning of September, offers a good first look at not only the story and how it uses multiple actors in the role of Steinem to span the eras depicted but also at how the movie has Taymor’s trademark visual panache. You get the basic high points and main messages here, especially about how Steinem used every opportunity to not take the safe path but instead break ground when necessary.

The official trailer (634,000 views on YouTube) only hit in the last two weeks and features even more of Taymor’s visuals and how she’s constructed the story. Steinem’s early years get a bit more attention as well, showing how she has to make compromises in order to get into the system she wants to change. It’s powerful and effective, especially at showing it to be a somewhat unusual or at least non-traditional biopic.

Online and Social

The movie’s official website opens with the trailer and has most of the usual marketing content. Along with that are a couple sections that are highly relevant to the subject matter.

First there’s “Get Involved,” which has information and links to When We All Vote and The United States of Women. The former is focused on turning out the vote while the latter is all about addressing issues specific to women across racial, ethnic and other lines.

Second is “Trailblazing Women,” where you can find information on some of the important women who influenced Steinem and her work, many of whom are featured in the film. Links to organizations associated with those women can also be found there.

Advertising and Promotions

The 2020 Sundance Film Festival served as the movie’s first public screening venue, earning positive reviews and buzz as a result. The cast and crew, along with Steinhem, were there to help promote the film.

LD Entertainment and Roadside Attractions partnered to acquire distribution rights after the festival ended.

In August the movie was officially removed from the theatrical calendar and a release directly on Amazon Prime scheduled for late September. At the end of the month a screening was held at Donna Karen’s home in The Hamptons.

Clips from the movie included Steinem and others fielding stupid questions at a press conference and more.

Media and Press

Taymor was interviewed during Sundance about the unusual format she applied to the movie instead of the usual biopic template and how she connected with Steinem, eventually getting her blessing to pursue the project. Steinhem was there herself and was just as opinionated on a number of topics, including the movie, as you’d hope she would be.

Other interviews with Taymor had her talking about adapting Steinem’s memoir and lots more, with some recent pieces touching on how the story relates to current events like the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Other media appearances included the cast talking on ExtraTV and Vikander chatting with Seth Meyers on “Late Night” and Moore on “The Tonight Show.”

Overall

There’s so much about this campaign that makes it fascinating, from the casting to the look and feel that comes with Taymor at the helm and more. It sells a movie that offers something unique and has a story to tell, one that should be more common than it currently is. The whole thing features a consistent brand, albeit one that is a whirlwind collage of imagery and visuals, all with Moore and the other stars at its center.

What jumps out most, though, is that the story doesn’t just feature a woman doing the unexpected for the period she lived in, but also clearly shows the misogyny and other attitudes that kept them out of certain jobs and environments for so long. Steinem is helped and encouraged by the other women around her, but there’s no “good guy” male figure here, one that wants to help breakdown boundaries. Instead they all want to keep her in her place, which is likely more realistic. For not shying away from that, it deserves kudos.

Picking Up The Spare

Costume designer Sandy Powell was interviewed about capturing the look of various periods in the story. 

Antebellum – Marketing Recap

How Lionsgate is selling a story of the past and present and what hasn’t changed.

Written and directed by the team of Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz, Antebellum stars Janelle Monáe as Veronica Henley, an author that focuses on racial topics and issues. Through a series of events she finds herself abducted and transported back to the 1800s, herself now a slave on a plantation. As she attempts to figure out how all this happened, she also finds she needs to help other slaves escape their captors and bring them with her to the (relative) safety of the 21st century.

The movie, originally scheduled to hit theaters in mid-March but rescheduled by Lionsgate for this week on VOD, brings a story of a shameful portion of America’s history to audiences at a time when racial justice has been in the news for months now. Not only are there the stories of police continuing to discount black citizens, but the Covid-19 pandemic has hit communities of color more severely both in terms of health and job losses. So our failure to make substantive improvements continues to wreak havoc throughout society.

With that in mind, the movie has received poor reviews resulting in a 33 percent “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The campaign has played up the mystery of the story as well as its focus on racial histories and injustices.

The Posters

Three posters (by marketing agency P+A) came out in late November of last year. All feature the same image – a butterfly stuck to a background and bleeding down the wall – but each has a different color to that background, creating the impression of a changeable reality of some kind. Copy warns “If it chooses you, nothing can save you.”

A solid red silhouette of that same butterfly is shown on the theatrical poster from early March. This time it’s placed over Henley’s mouth, her face clearly conveying a sense of alarm. It’s a creepy and alarming image that, without the copy from the previous posters, doesn’t offer a lot of explanation but does present the audience with a mystery that will hopefully be unlocked.

The Trailers

Released in November, the first trailer (6.8 million views on YouTube) doesn’t offer any kind of explanation as to what the story is or what’s going on. Instead it’s focused on creating an air of mystery and suspense as we’re shown quick cuts of strange goings-on with little in the way of connective material. That sense of unease is added to by the inclusion of mentions that the movie comes from the producers of Get Out and Us.

The second, very short trailer (180,000 views on YouTube) was released in March and lays out the basic premise: That Henley is an influential author and speaker who finds herself stuck in a reality that splits the present and the past. She’s forced to endure the slavery of her ancestors in order to save the future, but the details aren’t shared. Instead it’s about creating unease in the audience as we experience the same sort of disorientation Henley is.

A new trailer (5.7 million views on YouTube) came out in late May after a new release date was announced and debuted on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” It’s a shorter trailer but once more shows how Henley is pulled – more accurately “chosen” – from her comfortable modern life and thrust into the life of a plantation slave, a situation she’s determined to free herself from. Like the previous trailers, it never reveals too much of the story, just enough to make it clear there are strange things happening.

In early August, at the same time release plans were changed, another trailer (142,000 views on YouTube) came out that starts by showing more of Henley’s home and family life before she’s pulled into the past, albeit one that seems less than stable. Her desperation to get home and her confusion over what’s happening are clear, as is the terror that is slavery. There are a few moments that hint at what powers might be behind her predicament, but that’s never fully explained, which only adds to the tension created in the trailer.

Online and Social

The movie’s official website has most of the major marketing materials, including trailers and clips, a story synopsis and a small photo gallery. Primarily it’s there to communicate what VOD options are available for those interested in watching the movie. There are also social network profiles that provided updates and engagement in the build up to release.

Advertising and Promotions

The first clip came out in mid-August showing Henley discussing racism on a talk show before having to explain the concept to her young daughter. A second clip shows Henley having a very strange encounter with a creepy young girl on a hotel elevator. More clips offered additional looks at important aspects of the story.

At about the same time the first snippet of music from the film’s score was released.

An exclusive look at the movie introduced by Monae was shared during the recent MTV Video Music Awards.

Monáe’s new song “Turntables” comes from a new documentary on race and democracy but is also relevant to this film. The video mixes shots of the singer with footage of racial protests both past and present to underscore the message that the fight for justice is still ongoing and not something simply from history books.

Lionsgate held a drive-in premiere event earlier this week with Monáe and others in attendance.

Short videos like this were used as online promos as well as, most likely, TV commercials.

Media and Press

The third trailer, released in late May, debuted on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” along with an appearance by Monáe.

The filmmakers were profiled in response to their takeover of the movie’s social media profiles during the recent Black Lives Matter protests.

Costar Jena Malone received a number of profiles where she talked about the story of the movie, her role as a villain here and lots more. An interview with costar Gabourey Sidibe had her talking about her character along with sharing an exclusive clip.

Of course Monáe was the focus of the press push, with interviews focusing on how she brought her powerful performance style from music to the screen, how integral she feels activism is to being an artist, the kind of change she hopes to inspire, how the story explores the lasting impact of slavery and the type of future she envisions. She was also the subject of an EW cover story where she talked about these and other matters.

Monáe made appearances on “Good Morning, America,” “The Late Show” and elsewhere in the last week or so to talk about the movie and its story. She and others also shared their thoughts on the film at the movie’s rooftop premiere event.

How black filmmakers were working to tell stories involving racial themes and from their own point of view within the horror/thriller genres was the subject of a substantial profile.

Overall

While the reviews have so far been mixed, the campaign makes a strong impression and presents a timely and interesting product for audiences. There’s a lot of mystery on display here, something for the audience to unlock and explore along with the filmmakers, one that will resonate with horror fans along with others more interested in the racial history that’s used as the crux of the story.

The studio has smartly put Monáe at the center of the campaign, which makes sense not only because she’s in the lead role but because she brings with her a strong fanbase and public persona. That, combined with the clear imagery and iconography on display, creates a recognizable brand identity that flows throughout the marketing.

Picking Up The Spare

Focus Features advertised the movie on Spotify by sponsoring the “All The Feels” playlist. 

More from Malone on how she researched her role. 

Lots more coverage of how the film uses the horror genre to tell a story of racism, slavery and injustice

MovieClips debuted an exclusive clip from the film. 

A new TV spot that was also used for online ads played up the mystery while encouraging people who have seen the movie already to not spoil the twists for those who haven’t. 

A number of new promotional videos and interviews with the cast have come out. 

Harriet – Marketing Recap

Focus Features brings the story of an activist icon to the big screen with an action-packed campaign.

harriet poster 2Cynthia Erivo stars as the iconic Harriet Tubman, the former slave who escaped her captors and went on to take matters into her own hands in the new movie Harriet. The movie follows Tubman from the time of her escape to her quest to free others still suffering from the shackles of slavery through the Underground Railroad.

Unlike other biopics the movie doesn’t seem to follow Tubman from childhood, attempting to capture her entire life. Instead if focuses on this one important period of her life when she grew from someone unsure of what future she would have to one where she was defining her own destiny.

To sell the movie – which tells an important story in American history – Focus Features has run a campaign that ups the drama of the events depicted, presenting Tubman as a social activist hero. Tracking estimates an opening weekend upwards of $5 million, but the weak 63 percent Rotten Tomatoes rating may indicate it could be hurt by poor reviews and word of mouth.

The Posters

July brought the release of the first one-sheet (from marketing agency BOND). Tubman is presented as some kind of secret agent on the poster, barely emerging from the shadows with gun in hand and her face still obscured by the hat she wears. It’s an attempt to present the historical figure as an action-oriented leader, someone not afraid to get in the thick of things in service to her cause. Copy at the top reads like a personal credo, reminding the audience to “Live free or die” while at the bottom the audience is told this is based on “the “unbelievable true story of an American legend.”

The second poster shows the floating heads of Tubman, William Still (Leslie Odom Jr.) and Marie Buchanan (Janelle Monáe), two important figures in Tubman’s quest. Below those heads is the figure of a gun-toting Tubman standing against the breaking dawn. It’s a design that doesn’t send the message the movie is a historical drama but that it’s an action-packed story.

A third poster (by marketing agency Gravillis Inc) almost seems like it’s for a different movie. The overly-stylized “H” that’s placed in front of Tubman and the way she’s shown wearing what might as well be a costume or uniform of some sort further the feeling the marketers are selling this less as a serious film and more like Van Helsing.

The Trailers

Harriet is on the run from her slaver as the first trailer (7.4 million views on YouTube), released in late July, begins. She’s willing to risk her own life to be free, finally achieving her goal and given the chance to create her own identity. Once she’s safe she becomes determined to go back and free the rest of her family, once more putting her own safety at risk. Her repeated success results in being introduced to the Underground Railroad, but the people who are looking for her want her dead and the odds of her escaping seem to drop each time.

Online and Social

The movie’s official website opens with the trailer and, after you close it, offers little beyond the usual array of content Focus always puts on its site. That material is laid out nicely enough, but it’s simply not very much. Missing, unfortunately, is any background on the real life Tubman or links to resources where people can learn more about her.

Advertising and Publicity

The Austin Film Festival announced in August that the movie would screen there in October. It was also scheduled for the Urbanworld Film Festival and the Toronto Film Festival, the latter of which generated mostly positive reviews, especially for Ervo’s performance.

An extended TV spot came out in early October that shared some of the trailer’s more dramatic moments while focusing on the inclusion of the original song “Stand Up” by Cynthia Erivo. A bit later on an official lyric video that also included footage from the film was released.

A very strange video titled “Her Story” was released a bit later that plays like a dramatic version of the trailer, just about half as long. What’s odd about it is the text at the bottom of the screen that offers Wikipedia-like factoids about Tubman, perhaps to help explain the background of the woman in a way the trailer can’t. There’s a better way to do this, though.

The first clip released shows Harriet getting some pushback to her plan to go rescue more of those still enslaved and reacting badly to being told she can’t do something. A second also has her discussing going and freeing her husband, family and others.

Media and Press

While at Toronto there were numerous interviews with Enrivo allowing her to talk about finding the real Tubman underneath the history and how they wanted to show a well-rounded portrait of the woman, not a caricature or sketch.

There was an interview with composer Terence Blanchard where he talked about creating the movie’s period-appropriate score. Director Kasi Lemmons spoke about directing this film in particular as well as her frustration with the industry that’s restricted her opportunities along with her determination to keep at it. Another interview with Lemmons had her commenting on how she connected with the material.

A Variety cover story included Lemmons and Enrivo talking about the long road the film took to production, something they say indicates a new willingness in Hollywood to make movies about women of color.

Enrivo in particular made the media rounds, including appearances on “NBC Nightly News” with Odom Jr., “The Today Show,” “CBS Sunday Morning” and more.

Overall

It’s undoubtedly great to see someone like Tubman finally get her turn on the big screen, especially in a story that appears to put her front and center as someone who makes her own rules and follows what she believes God has set as her purpose without compromise. She is going to fight the injustice being done to her and her people regardless of anyone’s opinion or beliefs.

The trailers are great on that front, but the posters are still a little odd in their presentation of Tubman as a costumed hero. She may have had a go-to outfit for her travels, but the insistance on showing her like Wynonna Earp is a bit perplexing and maybe even a little off-putting.

Still, that shouldn’t take away from the fact that a movie like this getting made is an accomplishment that should be recognized and it’s certainly a story worth understanding a bit more deeply.

Picking Up the Spare

Lots more interviews leading up to and immediately following the movie’s release, with Lemmons talking about the long road taken to get Tubman’s story told, deciding to focus on Tubman’s early years and why she avoided some of the most cruel aspects of slavery.

More from many of those involved while attending the movie’s red carpet premiere here, while they also talked about honoring Tubman and her accomplishments.

Odom Jr. and Erivo spoke about their hope more movies like this will be made while an interview with writer Gregory Allen Howard covered how much had to change in Hollywood for this one to be made in the first place. Similar ground was covered in this profile, including a troubling anecdote from an earlier attempt.

How Erivo created the original song “Stand Up” was covered in this interview, part of a THR cover story. She and Lemmons appeared on “PBS Newshour” to discuss making the movie and were interviewed about their decision to focus on freedom over slavery.

Focus released a new featurette focusing on the scene of Tubman choosing her new name and another with the starts sharing stories from the set. The latest installment of the studio’s “Reel Destinations” series also visited locations from the movie. There was also another entry in its “My First Gig” series with the cast.

Regal Cinemas was given an exclusive featurette with Lemmons and Erivo talking about the story and its history. A short MovieClips featurette had Monae talking about the inspiration Tubman has provided her.

Additional clips from the movie were provided to AMC and EW.

Erivo appeared on “The Late Show” and “Late Night” to talk about the movie.

The full video for Erivo’s “Stand Up” was finally released.

There was a feature on the work of the movie’s director of photography and composer and how they did their jobs. Lemmons again spoke about how she sought to tell the story of the journey Tubman went on.

The movie features significant levels of diversity at all levels of production.

Focus Features brought the movie back to theaters with select free screenings around the country courtesy of Gofobo.