The film "12 Years a Slave" is based on the true story of a free black man who was kidnapped into slavery in the pre-Civil War American South. But posters for its Italian release have marginalized Chiwetel Ejiofor, who stars as the protagonist, in favor of large head shots of white actors Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender.
Pitt, who produced the film, has a relatively small role, and Fassbender has a supporting part as a cruel slave owner.
A spokesman for Lionsgate -- whose subsidiary Summit Entertainment is handling sales of the film to overseas distributors -- issued a statement disavowing responsibility for the posters, which were created for the film's Italian distributor, BIM.
It said the the posters "were unauthorized and were not approved by any of the producers or licensors of the film," and that Summit "is investigating and taking immediate action to … have those posters currently in the marketplace recalled."
The U.S. posters feature a nearly full-body profile shot of a fleeing Ejiofor, with no other characters shown. In Italy, the image of a running Ejiofor was dwarfed beneath the visages of either Pitt or Fassbender.
Word of the different marketing approach in Italy spread after a complaint voiced on an Italy-based Tumblr blog, Carefree Black Girl.
Among reasons cited for the underrepresentation of blacks and other minorities in starring film and TV roles is a perceived resistance to nonwhite actors in foreign markets, where distribution accounts for a growing share of revenues.