I turn my back on you: black movie poster art
February 24, 2015 11:14 AM   Subscribe

"Foregrounding the back of Martin Luther King’s head, Selma’s poster is an act of protest in itself. But as a recent book on black movie poster art shows, many past poster designs have obscured, caricatured or edited out black actors altogether." Isabel Stevens writes on black movie poster art at the British Film Institute (BFI).
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome (9 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I think scale of the individual Rückenfigur (figure seen from behind) changes the perception of the act. MLK, in the poster, was very much not facing the viewing public. If his figure was smaller in the scale of the image, it would fit more into the notion of Rückenfigur as seen in Romantic paintings, where the painter is putting you the viewer into the place of the individual in the painting. You imagine what it would be like to stand there, and fill in the material blocked by the body in the work.

That way, in the Fruitville Station poster, I feel more like I'm waiting with/behind the characters. Similarly for the poster of The Butler, I feel like I'm peering over the titular butler's shoulder at the march of time, as seen from inside the White House. I neither case do I feel like I, as the viewer, am the target of a protest.

Overall, a great article, thanks for sharing!
posted by filthy light thief at 1:17 PM on February 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

This is fascinating, and I'm thrilled ot learn a new term (Ruckenfigur) as a result of this post.

I bet you could do a comparative study with album covers and concert posters from the same years as the various movie posters.

Thanks for the post, joseph conrad is fully awesome.
posted by lord_wolf at 2:06 PM on February 24, 2015

I immediately thought of this movie trends set of graphics when I looked at the posters for Selma and The Butler and noticed the commonalities.
posted by immlass at 2:13 PM on February 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

BLT Communications designed the poster.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:16 PM on February 24, 2015

Very interesting article. Also check out Pictures of Jim.
posted by batfish at 3:34 PM on February 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

This is fascinating and important but I wonder if licensing choices may have also played a part in the choice of presentation of Martin Luther King, Jr. on the poster. Much has been written about the copyright administration of MLK's speeches, including those referenced or re-imagined in the recent movie, but it may also be relevant to note that the administration and processing of requests to use his name, image, likeness, recorded voice and associated rights of publicity are handled by the firm Intellectual Properties Management (IPM).
posted by Morrigan at 3:38 PM on February 24, 2015

Thanks for the post.

One of the most powerful decisions you can make in creating an image (especially in an environment oversaturated with faces) is to hide the face. You would think hiding the face would weaken the image, but in reality it can strengthen many other aspects of it, in particular symbolism. The brain may momentarily wonder why the face is not there and then grasp at other indicators for meaning, in a way it wouldn't if it encountered a smile or a frown or a blank look.

The Fruitvale Station does a wonderful job with this; you know what this movie is already going to be about from the title, but the image tells you this movie is also about relationships - two people of different sizes holding hands looking into the background - presumably at this moment on a train that will change their lives forever.

Symbols are incredibly powerful communicators. To me, the "The Butler" poster is all about the white gloves and the large window. It is interesting though, how the individuality of the character loses to the form and what that might mean in a sociopolitical context.
posted by phaedon at 4:45 PM on February 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

I just thought they had MLK turned away in the poster because it would be so obvious that the actor wasn't actually MLK in a giant still shot.
posted by zennie at 5:45 PM on February 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

I saw this poster close to a poster for Selma at my local movie theater. I don't know if it was intentional.
posted by Hatashran at 6:51 PM on February 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

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