Judas and the Black Messiah – Marketing Recap

How Warner Bros. has sold a story of power, politics and betrayal.

Judas and the Black Messiah, directed by Shaka King and co-written by him and Will Berson (with the story from Keith and Kennth Lucas), travels back to 1960s Chicago to tell the story of Illinois Black Panther leader Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya). Specifically, it focuses on Hampton’s betrayal by William O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield). That betrayal by O’Neal comes after he’s picked up by the FBI and told the only way he can stay out of jail is by informing on Hampton and his organization’s activities at a time when the Black Panther movement was viewed by law enforcement as a terrorist organization.

The movie, which also stars Jermaine Fowler, Martin Sheen, Dominique Fishback, Jesse Plemons and others, is hitting both limited theaters and HBO Max this week as part of Warner Bros.’ day-and-date release strategy. With a 98% “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes and already either having been nominated or won a number of awards, WB’s campaign has focused on the performances as well as the real-life drama that inspired the story.

The Posters

Last September the first poster (by marketing agency Statement Advertising) came out, showing O’Neal in the foreground with a red-tinged photo of Hampton and the crowds that believed in him in the background. That design, even independent of the copy reading “You can kill a revolutionary but you can’t kill the revolution”, is similar to the look and feel of propaganda posters, with the red usually indicating a socialist or similar message, one that’s appropriate for Hampton’s mission.

The second poster (by marketing agency Concept Arts) came out in January and pares things down to just Hampton and O’Neal. While it keeps that red shading, it also loses the copy but adds all the festivals the film has appeared at and claim that this is “One of the best films of the year.”

A final poster (by marketing agency GRAVILLIS) came out just last week and takes a different approach but keeps the idea of generally looking like some sort of propaganda poster. This time though it’s a blue and black color scheme and a design that also kind of mimics a paperback book, with the title at the top and the imagery in the bottom two-thirds. This one was designed for artist and former Black Panther member Emory Douglas.

The Trailers

The first trailer (2 million views on YouTube) was released in early August, opening with Hampton introducing himself and then showing how he is ready to lead a revolution. It quickly switches to focus on O’Neal, who is being interrogated by the FBI, who want him to inform on Hampton. Scenes of violent uprising are mixed with shots of Hampton and his organization helping feed and support communities, showing the good and the bad that the FBI was so eager to quash.

The second trailer (6.9 million views on YouTube) came out in January, showing Hampton and the community work he and the Black Panthers are doing. That’s far from the terrorist threat the FBI makes them out to be, something O’Neal comes to realize after he’s already in too deep. There’s an awful lot of powerful emotion here, selling a movie that’s focused on presenting a much more accurate picture of that period than may be taught in many history classes.

Online and Social

You’ll find information on showtimes (where applicable) as well as a synopsis and other very basic information on the film’s website, which uses a variation on the key art at the top.

Advertising and Promotions

As with the rest of the studio’s 2021 slate, it was among the titles named by Warner Bros. as debuting simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max.

The movie’s profile was raised significantly when it was added as a late entry to the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, which served as the film’s premiere.

A featurette released during Sundance in early February went into the real people and stories that influence the movie.

Cutdown versions of the trailer were used as preroll ads on YouTube and elsewhere.

The song “What It Feels Like” from Nipsey Hussle and Jay-Z came out earlier this week, one of the tunes on the movie’s “inspired by” soundtrack.

Media and Press

Right about the time the trailer debuted, King was interviewed about the controversial casting of a British actor to play a prominent Black American, something he said he was aware of but had to make the best choice he could regarding. Kaluuya was later interviewed about how the movie follows a path he’s carved out in her career to date along and more.

There was a feature profile covering how long King and others had worked on the project, how there were at times two Hampton-oriented films in development and how a number of studios passed on the film for reasons that seemed based more on “no one wants to see a movie about Black power” than anything else.

How Kaluuya researched his role and what that research exposed him to in terms of American history, as well how he worked with King and others were covered in an interview with the actor.

Stanfield appeared on “The Tonight Show” to talk about the film, though the conversation of course spilled over into more of his recent and upcoming projects.

King was interviewed about focusing on Hampton’s story and making it as realistic as possible, while Fishback spoke about how the film is part of her effort to tell important stories.

H.E.R. performed their song from the soundtrack on “The Late Show.”

Overall

WB’s campaign here is very strong, selling a biopic about a public figure that’s too often marginalized in many history books and lessons. Kaluuya and Stanfield are rightly front and center here, but so is King and that’s great to see since, as a filmmaker himself, the opportunity afforded by a higher profile is that he will be able to tell more like this.

The performances by the leads are at the forefront of a marketing push that has a clear and easily recognizable brand identity, one that makes it clear the film does not shy away from addressing sometimes uncomfortable societal issues. It’s not one that will likely drive massive amounts of new subscribers to HBO Max, but it does make the case that it’s a movie that needs to be watched if you can.

Sorry To Bother You – Marketing Recap

sorry to bother you poster 10Rap/hip-hop star Boots Riley makes his feature film writing and directing debut with this week’s new release Sorry To Bother You. Based in part on Riley’s own experience, the movie stars Lakeith Stanfield as Cassius, a young man living in a magical alternate version of Oakland with his girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson). Riley is kind of aimless and has trouble holding down a job, but is a nice guy who works hard.

One day he gets a job at a telemarketing firm and finds the key to success is simply hiding his blackness and pretending to be someone else. Suddenly he’s raking in the cash both from his real job and taking other opportunities that are a little more questionable, all while living a life that is ever-so-slightly exaggerated from reality.

The Posters

A series of brightly-colored posters, one for each character, came out right around the time of SXSW. Each one gave us a look at the character, with the name of the actor above the title, but written like it’s going to offer their character name. So it’s “Tessa Thompson is Sorry to Bother You.” That’s kind of fun and shows the movie’s irreverent and unusual attitude.

 

 

Two more posters came out later, one of which showed Cassius on the phone despite his head being bandaged while the copy emphasized “Destiny is calling.” The other was more of a theatrical one-sheet, showing Cassius from a distance as he leans against a wall while looking at something on his phone. There’s no tagline here, just a couple of positive blurbs from early reviews of the film.

The Trailers

I honestly don’t know what’s going on in the first trailer and I don’t really care. We have Cassius working menial jobs and living with Detroit before finding the keys to success in making himself sound more white on the phone and getting involved with the shady Steve. It’s a trip and a half and looks incredible. This is going to appeal to a lot of people for its whacked out attitude and clear message about what it takes to make it in the world and how much you have to sell out to celebrate.

The second trailer is similarly inscrutable, showing more or less the same level of “wow…what?” as the first, only slightly more outrageous thanks to its red-band designation. There’s so much good stuff here but if you’re looking for realism, this isn’t the place.

Online and Social

For a movie that’s so obviously presenting a heightened version of reality, the official website is pretty ordinary. There’s all the usual material like the trailers and information on the cast and crew, along with some quotes from early reviews of the movie. Up in the corner are links to the film’s Instagram, Twitter and Facebook profiles. One interesting addition is a link to a merchandise store where you can buy some of the fashion and other items featured in the movie.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

I haven’t seen or been able to find any TV spots, which is surprising given the studio is generally giving this a sizable push. There has been some online advertising done using elements pulled from the key art.

Media and Publicity

Almost universally – unsurprising given the creative talent on both sides of the camera – the movie made critics’ “films we need to see” lists in advance of its Sundance Film Festival debut. While the subsequent buzz wasn’t universally positive, it was still well-received and was called out as one of a handful of films at the festival taking a fresh look at masculinity. Hammer spoke while there about the unusual nature of the story and the character he plays. Annapurna Pictures acquired distribution before the festival was over. Riley also was interviewed a bit, talking about how he’s always harbored aspirations of being a filmmaker, what it was like to attend Sundance and more. After that it was also screened at the SXSW Film Festival.

Riley was later announced as the recipient of the Sundance Institute’s Vanguard Award. A feature profile of the freshman filmmaker went through his whole career, the somewhat difficult process of getting the movie made, how he’s had to hustle and scrap to maintain his creative edge and lots more. He, along with members of the cast, spoke more when the movie was screened at BAMcinemafest.

A video profile introduced Riley to those unfamiliar with him and allowed the filmmaker to explain what the movie was about. He and the rest of the cast talked about the experience of filming in Oakland and more in a series of interviews like thisThere were also a few joint interviews with Stanfield and Thompson where they talked about how unusual and interesting the movie was and what attracted them to it.

Overall

If Riley was looking to come out of the gate with a strong first impression, he appears to have succeeded spectacularly. Not only has he made what looks to be a spectacularly original movie, but Annapurna has given it a campaign that is one of the most colorful and eye-catching of the year. Its vibrant personality and skewed sense of humor is front and center, making sure anyone who catches any part of the marketing is going to know exactly what kind of movie it is they can expect should they choose to visit the theater.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

Writer/director Boots Riley ignited a thousand hot takes when he spoke up about the lack of international distribution for his well-received movie, citing a belief by the studio and others that “black” movies still don’t work overseas.

 

There isn’t usually a lot of attention paid to producers, but Nina Yang Bongiovi got a nice profile covering how she has become a force in the indie movie world and helped bring this movie to fruition.

 

The movie has generated a metric ton of stories such as this about code-switching and “white voice.” Annapurna Pictures leaned into that by releasing a featurette with Patton Oswalt and David Cross, who provide some of the white voices used by black characters in the film.

 

Star Lakeith Stanfield has engaged in a bit more media, including appearing on “Kimmel” to promote the movie.

 

Lakeith Stanfield received a substantial profile in The New York Times covering how he’s made a decent career to date by playing off-kilter characters.

 

There’s also been lots more coverage of writer/director Boots Riley, including this feature where he talks tech and this one where he weighs in on the role activism should play in the life of the artist.