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Studios Face Challenge In Marketing Gay Films By Kathy Tyre

LOS ANGELES – Love knows no bounds – at least it won’t on the movie screen this year. Two Hollywood studios are setting a precedent as they prepare to br

In May, New Line Cinema will release Three of Hearts, a ‘who gets the girl?’ story with a twist. It’s not two men – but a woman and a man – who compete for a second woman’s affections. This fall, TriStar will bring out Philadelphia, with Tom Hanks as an attorney fired by his law firm when it’s discovered he has AIDS, and Denzel Washington as the homophobic attorney who represents Hanks’ character when he sues.
Having hurdled the industry’s reluctance to handle gay topics on the big screen to bring these projects to life, the studios now face the challenges inherent in creating advertising that will make the films palatable to an audience that may be uncomfortable with the subject.
‘I don’t think the broad public is necessarily ready to embrace a gay film,’ said Chris Pula, president of theatrical marketing for New Line. ‘With shows like Roseanne that have two openly gay characters, Melrose Place, The Crying Game, or even Dame Edna, slowly but surely, gay subjects are chipping away at people’s prejudices.’
The trick for movie marketers lies in making the topic matter-of-fact without avoiding the very subject that makes the films special.
Three Of Hearts is being positioned as a romantic comedy, likely to attract females aged 16-34. The film doesn’t focus on the lesbian relationship, which actually ends as the story begins. But the relationship is key to the movie’s plot.
‘It’s truly not a gay film,’ said Pula. ‘This movie is like The Bodyguard, in that The Bodyguard never brought up the interracial romance. The difference is that they had the impact of visible minority there. We have an invisible minority, and we had to call attention to it through copy in the advertising, but in such a way that it was matter of fact.’
New Line deliberately avoided using the terms ‘gay,’ ‘lesbian’ and ‘homosexual’ in the ad copy, in order not to handicap the film. ‘Our challenge was to completely describe the concept, but to let consumers discover the idea without slapping them in the face.’
The result was the tagline, ‘Just your average girl meets girl. Girl loses girl. Girl hires boy to get girl back story. With a twist.’
TriStar, meanwhile, is positioning Philadelphia, an estimated $25-million production, as a mass entertainment, comedy-love story-court-room thriller and a social documentary about the ’90s.
TriStar executives weren’t available for interviews for this story. But president Marc Platt contended in a story in the Los Angeles Times that he doesn’t anticipate any special problems in marketing this film. Sources at TriStar say they believe the best advertising for the film will be word of mouth and that the studio will push plenty of publicity before ads actually break.
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)