If you’ve been at all culturally aware for the last 20 years or so you’ll know there’s a consistent movement afoot to take books and other materials out of libraries and other locations that are, by current standards, ethnically or racially insensitive. Books like Tom Sawyer are often singled out because they contain racial phrases and terminology that, while they were completely acceptable at the time, are offensive were they to be used now. These movements overlook the fact that you can’t just unremember these things and that it is, in fact, better to teach to them than to simply try to remove them from public view.
The issues of race and class are the central themes of the new movie The Help. Set in 1960s Mississippi the movie is about a group of socialite women and the black maids who work for them and who are, like or not, part of their lives. Skeeter (Emma Stone) is an aspiring writer who decides one day to interview those maids, including Aibileen (Viola Davis) an Minny (Octovia Spencer), about their lives under the agreement that they remain anonymous. When the eventual book is published it causes waves in the racially charged world they all live in and causes everyone to reevaluate their thinking and assumptions.
The movie’s one poster is pretty simple but does setup the idea of dual worlds being lived in. Stone is the only one facing the camera as she and Bryce Dallas Howard (who plays Hilly, her main social rival in the movie) sit on a public bench as two the maids played by Spencer and Davis stand off to the side chatting about something. At the top is the copy “Change begins with a whisper” and the mention of “change” along with the hairstyles and dresses they’re all wearing clearly put this in the 60s and, presumably, amid the civil rights activity taking place during that decade. There’s not much here about the story but the setting is adequately set up for the audience.
The trailer starts off with Skeeter entering a parlor full of her friends, who don’t seem to be completely on board with the fact that she went to college, nor does her mother who complains of being without grandchildren. The niceties of polite society are in contrast with the way the help is treated, with initiatives to require them to use separate bathrooms even in private homes in addition to the public restaurants and other locations. Skeeter, though, wants to draw attention to this imbalance and sets out to write about things. While none of the housekeepers are anxious to help her out of fear of retribution they eventually come around. So she writes a book blowing the lid off the problems that winds up scandalizing the community.
This trailer works so ridiculously well because of all those involved. While Stone is obviously the star here it’s the entire cast that shines and the trailer plays the film as an ensemble of women that just might be fantastic.
When the official website opens you’ll notice the recreation of the poster key art. Each character, though, is clickable and when you do so you’re taken to a profile of that character along with downloads such as Wallpaper and Photos that feature that character. Those same profiles are accessible by clicking the “Characters” selection from the main navigation menu.
Going back to that menu the first section is “About the Film” which has a Synopsis as well as Cast and Crew information.
The “Gallery” has about a dozen stills from the film and “Videos” has the Theatrical Traller, a Featurette and a Mary J. Blige music video featuring movie footage.
“Share Your Story” is a section presented by Participant Media that encourages you to share an inspiring story of your own, presumably about how you overcame some sort of prejudice or other obstacle or how you’re being held down by such problem.
More Mary J. Blige can be found in the “Soundtrack” along with a list of all the other songs that are featured on the album along with a link to download that album on iTunes. And “Partners” lists the companies that participated in some sort of cross-promotion in conjunction with the film.
The movie’s Facebook page has a lot of multimedia features on the landing page as well as a prompt to use a hashtag when discussing the movie on Twitter, where the movie also had a profile that contained lots of updates on the marketing and more.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
Kind of surprising for a movie of this kind (read: small, gentle) it received some of its first advertising pushes during this year’s MTV Movie Awards, where it was kind of the odd-man-out because it didn’t feature superheroes or robots.
There were lots of cross-promotional partners for the movie, including HSN, which offered a special collection inspired by the movie and ran a bit of programming that went behind the scenes on the movie and offered other film information.
Tea company The Republic of Tea offered a special movie-branded blend and coffee retailer Starbucks sold the soundtrack in its stores. Famous Amos offered a scholarship for the best inspiring story. Barnes & Noble, Best Buy and AllRecipes.com are also listed as partners but the details of their involvement aren’t apparent on their website.
Media and Publicity
Some of the earliest press for the movie outside of the release of marketing materials was an interview with many of the cast members (Los Angeles Times, 7/31/11) about how the movie was unusual both because it featured a largely female cast and for how substantive the story was. The uniqueness of the movie and its cast was also the subject of cover stories (EW, 8/4/11) and more coverage that allowed the women to talk about their lives and other topics.
Of course the movie’s setting in the era of the civil rights struggle and how it fits into the long list of feature films and documentaries on that period was the subject of some press (New York Times, 8/9/11). And the fact that the movie featured such strong performances from a diverse cast of women on such a topic naturally made it fodder for awards speculation (LAT, 8/9/11).
The movie also got word-of-mouth help (LAT, 8/9/11) from the NAACP and other organizations that continue to fight against the racial prejudice and problems that persist in the world even today, five decades after the monumental struggles that defined the 60s.
I’ll admit – I didn’t have high hopes for the campaign when I first heard about the movie. It sounded like a glorified Lifetime story. But the organic way in which things were released and how there hasn’t been a massive and overwhelming push to overdo certain things and fall into certain traps has brought me around a bit. I still would have liked to have seen more from the poster and think the website could have done more to act as a sort of educational hub about the world that the story takes place in but those are minor quibbles. This is a nice and dignified campaign for a movie that, while it kind of looks out of place even at the end of the summer movie season, appears to be worth checking out.
PICKING UP THE SPARE
- 09/13/11 – Alison Nastasi at Movies.com says the cross-promotion with the Republic of Tea is kind of odd given the movie’s subject matter. I thought it was odd just to see any sort of cross-promotion with this kind of movie.
- 09/15/11 – According to SocialGuide the movie was mentioned in 15% of all movie-related conversations in the weeks it sat on top of the box-office, the highest of any single movie.