Movies fall under the category of “entertainment,” but not every movie can be taken lightly. 12 Years a Slave clearly falls in this more serious subcategory.
British retailer Sainsbury’s is selling copies of the Oscar-winning movie on DVD. The store also thought it would be a good idea to do a little cross-promotion. So they set up a mannequin right next to the movie display in a 12 Years a Slave-inspired yoga outfit with cropped pants and a tunic. A Twitter user snapped the photo at right, and we have ourselves a brand new and totally insensitive PR fail.
Sainsbury’s PR tweeted its apologies and says the display has since been dismantled. The Daily Dot calls it “offensive” (it is), “stupid” (no doubt), “bizarre” (yup), and “horribly racist.” I would stop short of that.
The set up isn’t so much “racist” as it is the work of a marketer who couldn’t see the bigger picture when they were putting this whole thing together. This doesn’t mean that slavery or racism is off limits for everything other than teaching a severe history lesson. Quentin Tarantino has a compelling and at many times harrowing take on the subject with Django Unchained, even if he treats it with his own brand of storytelling. (Though I’m sure some have a problem with that also.)
You also have the Emmy consideration ad for Key & Peele, with the caption “Vote for us or Donald Sterling wins.” Or even the Emmy consideration ad for Broad City, with the caption “Because two Jews haven’t won since last year.”
“This seemed like the perfect tone for Key & Peele,” Comedy Central Chief Marketing Officer Walter Levitt told The Hollywood Reporter.
Tone is so incredibly important when dealing with these sensitive topics. It’s not a matter of being politically correct, but striking the balance such that the context and the message are in sync. That’s where Sainsbury’s went wrong. Of all the things 12 Years a Slave is about, fashion isn’t one of them.