How 20th Century Studios has sold the remake of a 90’s comedy classic
White Men Can’t Jump, out this week on Hulu, stars Sinqua Walls and Jack Harlow as Kamal and Jeremy, respectively. Those are different characters than those played by Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson in the 1992 original, but the premise is largely the same.
Kamal is a hotshot on the neighborhood basketball court, earning extra cash by winning games while Jeremy hustles his opponents who bet on him not being able to play at their level on account of his being white. The two figure out there’s more money to be made by combining their talents. Teyana Taylor and Laura Harrier play Imani and Tatiana, the girlfriends of Imani and Jeremy.
The film was directed by Calmatic from a screenplay by Kenya Barris and Doug Hall, with those two collaborating on the story with Ron Shelton, who wrote and directed the original movie.
So despite the assumption there will be significantly fewer day-glo hats and pastel tank tops featured, let’s take a look at how it’s been sold.
announcement and casting
The movie was announced in late November 2021 with Calmatic directing, though Barris had reportedly been working on the project for a number of years prior to that.
Harlow and Walls were both cast in the lead roles in early 2022, followed shortly by most of the supporting cast, including Lance Reddick in what was to become one of his last screen performances.
the marketing campaign
The marketing of the film began in early February on an odd note, with a TV spot style video that didn’t do a lot to introduce us to the specific characters or premise but did establish that we were in an updated version of WMCJ, with new conversations and attitudes but the same basic dynamics in place.
In mid-April the studio held a special screening along with a Q&A featuring Calmatic and Walls.
Harlow was interviewed in May about taking on his first acting role and the work he did to prepare for the audition.
The first trailer (3.6m YouTube plays) came out about that time and starts with Jeremy hustling Kamal for a few hundred dollars. Both of them are having money problems and getting pressure from their girlfriends about having a more stable future, so teaming up for a big tournament to win the prize money seems like a good solution. First they need to get the entry fee, so there’s a lot of hustling to do and basketball to play as the unlikely pair begin to begrudgingly respect each other.
The poster that came out along with the trailer simply shows the two main characters without any copy about the story or other context. It’s just the two of them, the title and the release date.
Kamal and Jeremy debate who our greatest living filmmaker is in the first clip, released at the beginning of May. Another clip shows someone arriving at one of their games with a flamethrower, which seems like an extreme reaction.
The next poster just shifts the camera and poses of the characters a bit but maintains the same basic idea as the first one-sheet, just with “Play hard. Hustle harder.” added as copy.
Another commercial/online video recapped the elements of the story and characters.
The director and members of the cast took part in a “Hoop Bus” event at Venice Beach where attendees to compete in various basketball challenges and find exclusive movie merchandise and more.
That was followed by red carpets premieres and screenings in both Los Angeles and New York City, with most of the talent involved appearing at both events. Harlow and others talked about working with the late Reddick and more.
Calmatic explains in a featurette that the premise of this movie is the same as the original but the story is brand new while the cast shares who their characters are and what motivates them.
What strikes me from the campaign as a whole is how uninterested it is in introducing us to the characters or explaining much about the story. It 100% relies on the audience knowing what the basic premise is going to be based on the title alone while working to convey an attitude instead of anything substantial.
That’s fine in and of itself. At the very least it’s a legitimate tactic to take. But then don’t make claims to this being anything all that original and own that it’s an updating of a familiar story in the same way that Richard III can be shifted forward and set in World War I.
Aside from those quibbles, it looks like a fun retelling of the story, just with a different sort of chemistry than was seen between Snipes and Harrelson and in a vastly different cultural context.