the forgiven – marketing recap

How Roadside Attractions and Vertical Entertainment are selling a story of class, privilege and justice.

The Forgiven movie poster from Roadside Attractions and Vertical Entertainment
The Forgiven movie poster from Roadside Attractions and Vertical Entertainment

The Forgiven, out this week in theaters, is based on Lawrence Osborne’s novel of the same name. Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain star as David and Jo Henninger, a married couple traveling through Morocco to attend the party being thrown by their friend Richard (Matt Smith). On their way they accidentally hit and kill a young local with their car, but continue on to the party. With the help of Richard and the local police the incident is swept under the rug, but the father of the young man eventually arrives seeking the justice authorities aren’t interested in.

Written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, the movie arrives with a middling 74% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, so let’s take a look at how it’s been sold to the public.

announcement and casting

Fiennes was attached to star when the movie was announced in mid-2018, but Chastain replaced the previously-cast Rebecca Hall in late 2019 at the same time Caleb Landry Jones joined. Smith and others were added in late 2020, around the same time a handful of first look stills were released.

The movie’s world premiere was held at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2021. Roadside Attractions and Vertical Entertainment partnered on a distribution deal a few months after the festival.

the marketing campaign

It wasn’t until mid-May that the first trailer (14k YouTube views) came out. Jo and David are on their way to a party when it opens, but before they get there they hit a man walking across the road. Taking him with them to avoid any police inquiries, things get dark quickly as the incident leads to a confrontation with the boy’s father, a blowing up of the relationship between David and Jo and more drama as those with power think it will protect them from the consequences of their actions.

“Everything must be faced” declares the poster released at the same time. David and Jo look out pensively from the top of the image while, below a few positive quotes from critics, the bottom shows their car pulling toward the location of the lavish party they’re attending. It doesn’t do much beyond selling the two stars in an interesting setting.

Chastain and others were in attendance at the film’s premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in mid-June.


And….that’s it? No additional interviews with the cast, no cut down trailers, not even a few original photos from the premiere at Tribeca.

I never ever want to hear anyone ever again complain that Netflix is burying one of its releases with a lackluster marketing campaign, something that passed as conventional wisdom just two or three weeks ago.

It’s not that I don’t think Roadside/Vertical have faith in the movie, it’s just that they seem realistic about the film’s future and so didn’t invest a lot of additional effort.

Proxima – Marketing Recap

How Vertical Entertainment is selling a relationship drama centered on space flight.

There have been a handful of movies and series recently focused on the personal toll felt by astronauts embarking on long-term missions to space. Between Ad Astra, “Away” and others, we have certainly gotten the message that such missions are emotionally devastating in many ways.

Adding to that sub-genre is this week’s Proxima. Eva Green stars as Sarah Loreau, the only woman slated for an upcoming year-long mission to the International Space Station. While training for that mission, Sarah’s relationship with her young daughter becomes increasingly strained as they get closer to the extended time they’ll be apart.

Vertical Entertainment has mounted a small but solid campaign over the last month for the movie, which has an impressive 82% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The Posters

The one poster, released in mid-October, does a great job of summing up the main ideas of the film in a single image. Sarah, already decked out in her mission gear, and her daughter are shown looking lovingly at each other with a massive rocket on the launchpad behind them. It communicates both the setting and what the drama contained in the story will be and works pretty well.

The Trailers

Vertical released the first trailer (3,700 views on YouTube) shortly after it picked up the project in early October. The team is preparing for their mission to the ISS, the last one before an eventual trip to Mars, but Sarah seems to be having some last-minute issues. That’s especially evident in her relationship with her daughter, who is acting out just before her mother leaves. That dynamic is what will drive most of the story’s movement, making it less about space travel and more about love and isolation.

Online and Social

Unless I’ve missed it, there’s no real online presence for the film from Vertical.

Advertising and Promotions

The movie debuted at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival and won the Special Jury Prize at that year’s San Sebastian Film Festival. But it was almost a year before Vertical Entertainment acquired the film, setting a November PVOD release.

MovieClips got an exclusive clip of Sarah doing some pre-mission shopping.

Media and Press

Green and others did some press interviews during TIFF and San Sebastian in 2019, but there doesn’t seem to have been anything more recent, timed to coincide with the film actually being released.


While it’s not uncommon for VOD – premium or otherwise – releases to get campaigns that are smaller than their theatrical brethren, this seems unnecessarily minimalist given the overall positive reviews the movie has received. Green is a well-known and well-liked actor and not putting her out there for the press in the last month is a surprising move given she could have provided a bit of momentum for the film leading into it becoming available.

What campaign is there is good, though, selling a movie that offers a complicated but not overwrought drama showing how deep a mother/daughter bond can be as well as what kinds of trials it is sometimes tested by. It’s also nice to see Green in a role that isn’t overtly sexual, showing how wide her actual range is.

Ava – Marketing Recap

How Vertical Entertainment is selling another hyper-efficient assassin drama.

There are a great many movies that should have gotten sequels but didn’t, for any of a variety of reasons. One of those is Salt, the Angelina Jolie spy action drama that was about as tight and well-constructed as they come.

This week’s Ava comes close to filling the gap left by the lack of a Salt sequel. Jessica Chastain stars as the title character, a highly-skilled assassin who has worked for years for a black-ops government agency. When an assignment goes wrong she finds herself on the run and struggling just to survive. That flight includes visits to the family she ran away from almost a decade earlier. At the same time she has to find out who it is that sold her out and now wants her dead.

The movie costars Geena Davis, Colin Farrell, John Malkovich, Common, Jess Wexler and others. Reception so far has not been great, with a paltry 25 percent “Rotten” on Rotten Tomatoes. Vertical’s campaign has been heavy on action and light on story, as we’ll see below.

The Posters

In June the first and only domestic poster (by marketing agency Ignition) came out. It shows Ava looking glamorous but deadly, wearing a lovely evening dress and fully made up while also holding a gun and with a bloody gash on her cheek. The title treatment uses a bullseye to communicate the idea she’s an assassin, with the copy below it hinting at the danger by saying “Kill. Or be killed.

The Trailers

The first trailer (371,000 views on YouTube) came out in late June, quickly introducing us to Ava and her lethal skillset. Her abilities are being questioned by some, though, and she becomes a target herself. While her mentor wants to protect her, others want her dead and she has to call on all her abilities and training to get through each day. What we see here promises lots of close-up action and violence with a great cast, making it look more than a little attractive and interesting.

Online and Social

There doesn’t appear to have been a website created for the movie and it received limited support on Vertical’s social brand profiles.

Advertising and Promotions

Chastain posted a fun little video on social media showing her fight training with Farrell, joking about how they never seem to get along on film.

A clip came out recently showing just how deadly Ava is

Media and Press

There had been a bit of controversy around director Matthew Newton regarding past accusations of assault the ultimately led to him being removed from the project. It wasn’t until a while later that a first look photo was released.


Salt, of course, isn’t the only movie this one can be compared to. There’s more than a little John Wick in here as well, and there have been others that have tried to play in the same space.

This film’s biggest differentiator is Chastain in the lead role, but based on what is laid out above it looks like no one’s heart was really in it. The whole campaign is rather lackluster, not trying very hard to raise a standard action flick to any substantial level. It’s a shame since it’s not a bad premise, and the addition of a life Ava left behind is intriguing. As it is the marketing sells a slick but unexceptional movie.

Miss Juneteenth – Marketing Recap

How Vertical Entertainment is selling a drama with a timely title.

I’m not the only one, at least based on my social media feeds, who wasn’t taught the history of Juneteenth in school. This day – today – marks the anniversary of slaves in Texas being told in 1965 they were free as the result of the Emancipation Proclamation, signed over two years prior. While it has been virtually ignored in white culture for 155 years, its prominence resulting from the recent protests against police brutality have raised the day’s profile to the point where many organizations have declared it a paid company holiday and calls for it to be a federal holiday have increased substantially.

Today marks the release of the new movie Miss Juneteenth. Written and directed by Channing Godfrey Peoples, the film stars Nicole Beharie as Turquoise Jones, a former winner of the Miss Juneteenth beauty pageant. Now a single mom to her daughter Kia (Alexis Chikaeze), Turquoise has worked to build a good life for both of them and now wants to groom Kia to win the same pageant, one that is dedicated to commemorating the holiday. Those plans aren’t exactly what Kia has in mind, though, and the two struggle with each other’s ambitions.

The film, currently at 98 percent “Fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes, marks Peoples’ feature directorial debut and has received a limited but timely campaign to sell the drama as it seeks to seize the moment.

The Posters

Turquoise is decked out in a gown, complete with tiara, on the poster, released in May. She’s sitting on a small porch and looks more than a bit melancholy or even sad, conveying a sense of longing for the glory days of yesteryear or reflecting on some mistakes that have been made. That’s really the whole point and so works well on that front. The movie’s festival appearances are touted as well.

The Trailers

Also released in May, the one trailer (12.6k views on YouTube) opens with a look back at Turquoise’s heyday as she celebrates her winning the Miss Juneteenth pageant with a ride in a local parade. Cut to the present and she’s working hard to make ends meet for her and Kia, who is now on the pageant circuit. It’s clear Turquoise see’s Kia as the path to the future and a way out of the hard life they’re living, but Kia’s heart isn’t in it, fostering dreams of dancing and doing her own thing. Conflict between the two has both of them wishing they could just make the other understand where they’re coming from.

Online and Social

There doesn’t seem to be much of a web presence for the movie, though Vertical did have a page that rounded up some of the important links, including details on VOD and drive-in theater release availability. There were also social profiles for the film.

Advertising and Promotions

The film made a well-regarded appearance at Sundance 2020 and was scheduled to appear at SXSW before that festival was cancelled. Vertical Entertainment acquired distribution rights in April.

Media and Press

In a recent interview, Peoples spoke about the inspiration behind the story while Beharie talked about some of the problems she’s faced as a black actress, including the unequal treatment she received while starring on “Sleepy Hollow” years ago. That experience, she says, led to her deciding to be more selective in the projects she chose and the people she worked with.

The topic of black history, beauty standards and more came up in an interview with Chikaeze, who also spoke about what she knows of the holiday and more. She also talked about the experience she had getting teargassed by police while participating in one of the recent peaceful protest marches.

Costar Kendrick Sampson also spoke about how the movie speaks to our current situation


The campaign itself is good enough, showing the drama that comes from the friction between a parent who wants to relive her glory days vicariously through her daughter and the daughter who wants to follow her own path. A strong message is sent through the trailer in particular, which shows complex characters struggling to find their place in the world.

It also serves as yet another opportunity for those of us who haven’t been steeped in the history of Juneteenth to learn more about an important event and the history surrounding it. Vertical’s social profiles for the film worked as the primary points offering that context, serving up small but important history lessons that are useful in order to fully understand the movie’s story as well as society in general.

Picking Up The Spare

Another interview with Beharie here that touches on her experience shooting the film as well as her career to date. She also talked about the story and more in a joint interview with Peoples.

Beharie was interviewed about how the movie tells the story of people on society’s fringes who aren’t usually the subject of such films. 

Where Hands Touch – Marketing Recap

Here’s how Vertical Entertainment sold the wartime teen romance WHERE HANDS TOUCH starring Amandla Stenberg.

where hands touch posterLeyna (Amandla Stenberg) is a biracial teen living in 1944 Germany in the new movie Where Hands Touch. The daughter of a white woman and black man, Leyna is a German citizen but not the kind that’s in favor at the moment. While she ostensibly has all the rights and privileges others do, she lives in fear because of the persecution of ethnic and racial minorities happening all around her.

One day she meets Lutz (George MacKay), a member of the Hitler Youth and son of a prominent SS official. The two fall in love in the passionate, emotional way only teens can, but their relationship is fraught with the difficulties of the time, as Leyna must balance her love for Lutz with the horrors being visited on others all around her.

The Posters

The movie’s only poster tries its darndest to communicate the message of the story but is weighed down by poor design. Stenberg as Leyna is in the center of the frame, looking out hopefully just off to the side of the camera. In the background a building is draped in Nazi flags as bombers fly overhead. This looks like something designed by committee, where everyone just had to make sure it was as bland and unappealing as possible.

The Trailers

The first trailer makes it clear there is no whitewashing or underplaying of the German Nazi regime in the story. We watch as Leyna’s family works to keep her safe as thing intensify because she looks like someone the regime would otherwise be targeting. She has limited freedoms because she has papers that keep her safe. But things begin to get troublesome when her relationship with Lutz causes problems not only for her but also for him as the son of a prominent military official.

Online and Social

All you’ll find on the official website is the trailer, a synopsis, a photo gallery and the ability to buy tickets for a screening near you. There are also links to the Facebook and Instagram profiles for the movie.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Nothing here that I’ve seen or am aware of.

Media and Publicity

A first look still was released way back in 2017, well before the movie eventually debuted at the 2018 Venice Film Festival. In that time, Stenberg and director Amma Asante repeatedly, including just before Venice, had to defend the movie as one that didn’t in any way romanticize Nazis or their ideology.

Around the time of the first trailer a featurette was released that included the cast and crew talking about the story, the production and the realities of the world the movie takes place in, focusing on how it’s still a YA romance at heart.

The movie also appeared at the Toronto Film Festival, where it received fairly good reviews and word of mouth. While there Stenberg spoke about how the production, which took place during the 2016 presidential election, added all the more to the feeling the story was timeless. She was also the subject of a profile that covered the movie as well as what else she’s done in her career.

Asante was interviewed about whether the story is based on a real person, clarifying that it’s more a composite of the experiences of people like Leyna at the time.


I understand the points people have made that the movie seems to relegate Nazi Germany to “Just Another Tragic Backdrop,” but that seems to be somewhat unfounded, even just based on the campaign. There’s clearly enough here that explains the reality of what was happening, even if it doesn’t make that the focal point of the story.

The problem, then, is that it’s hard to have it both ways, to tell a story related to the Holocaust without telling the story *of* the Holocaust. Not only that, but the publicity campaign did not have Stenberg’s full attention, as she’s also on the road promoting The Hate U Give, coming later this year. So it will likely slip through the cracks, further marginalizing the story.


A new 30-second spot has been released that focuses on the dangers faced by Leyna more than the teen romance angle.