No Negroes Please, We’re British.

I have no opinion whether or not the film Couples Retreat is any good or not, but I’m simultaneously disgusted and amused by the way Hollywood worries how the world feels about Black actors in films.

Case in point:

The United States Poster:

Then there’s the United Kingdom version, which is just a wee bit different.

Now you see the Black folks.   Now you don’t!

So why were the African-American couple scrubbed from the U.K. poster?  

The makers of the recent Vince Vaughn hit comedy, Couples Retreat, are at the centre of a race controversy after two black actors were airbrushed from publicity posters in the UK.

The American advert for the film, which stars Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau and Kristin Davis, shows all eight of the movie’s principal actors, including Faizon Love and Kali Hawk. But both Love and Hawk were removed from the promotional campaign ahead of the film’s British release last month.

Couples Retreat, which has currently taken over $70 million at the worldwide box office, tells the story of four couples who go on holiday together and receive therapy to improve their relationships.

A spokesman for the film’s makers, Universal Pictures, confirmed the poster had been changed to ‘to simplify the poster to actors who are most recognisable in international markets’. The studio said it regretted causing offence and has now abandoned plans to use the revised poster in other countries. 

I could have sworn I’ve seen a few Black people in Great Britain.   Do they not go the movies (or is this just a really bad case of “hidden racism”)?

In a film like Couples Retreat, I have the nagging feeling  Faizon Love and Kali Hawk were  “bussed in” to add a bit of color to the proceedings. Yes, they are placed waaaaay back in the first poster, but they are serving as the token Black folks much the same way every beer commercial or Viagra commercial has one Black guy hangin’ out with all his White buddies.

The South used to be the no-fly zone for films with Black actors in leading roles. Now it’s the overseas market where even the likes of Will Smith and Denzel Washington find it tough going.

“For an international audience, when it looks like an urban movie with an African-American star in the lead, they just turn it off, and I find that incredibly discouraging,” said Chris McGurk, the chief executive of Overture Films. Mr. McGurk was vice chairman of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Company when it released the two “Barbershop” films, starring Ice Cube, to big business with both black and white audiences at home. They earned virtually nothing abroad.

Faison Love and Kali Hawk are hardly household names in this country, let alone across the pond.  But they certainly aren’t the stars of Couples Retreat.   They’re just there to be the token Black representation, but apparently some genius at Universal Pictures thought even bringing up the rear they were stil too prominent, so out they go. 

Will Smith is one of the kings of the box office here in America, but even here he has to factor in how will his movies perform overseas.  

Looking at Smith’s last five films and who he is paired with as an romantic interest is revealing.

Seven Pounds…………………………Rosario Dawson
Hancock…………………………………Charlize Theron (kinda, sorta)
I Am Legend…………………………..Sam the dog
The Pursuit of Happyness………Thandie Newton (divorced)
Hitch………………………………………Eva Mendes

Smith said he wanted to cast a Black actress as his love interest in Hitch, but had to take under consideration how that would play with foreign audiences.   In an 2005 interview with the British newpaper, The Birmingham Post,  Smith explained how Eva Mendes ended up as the romantic lead.

As fallbacks go you could do worse than Eva Mendes.

“There’s sort of an accepted myth that if you have two black actors, a male and a female, in the lead of a romantic comedy, that people don’t want to see it.    We spend $50-something million making this movie and the studio would think that was tough on their investment.  So the idea of a black actor and a white actress comes up—that’ll work around the world,  but it’s a problem in the U.S,”  Smith said. 

It is very hard to find a mainstream American movie where Blacks are romantic leads or depicted in relationships.

Tyler Perry flicks make money hand over fist, he’s catering to an audience of African American women. Though Denzel often has a Black actress cast as a wife/girlfriend, you have to go back to 2003’s Out of Time where he’s involved in a love triangle with Sanaa Lathan and—the go-to gal for multiracial dating–Eva Mendes.

It’s a legitimate argument to make that  the scrubbing of Love and Hawk from the Couples Retreat  UK poster wasn’t an act of deliberate racism as much a  coldly rational recognition that even popular Black actors have a limited appeal to foreign markets.   It’s still a bitter pill to swallow.