'12 Years a Slave': Horrors Hard to Sell?

Audiences may not be ready for an unglamorous take on history.

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Fox Searchlight Pictures

The brutal honesty of 12 Years a Slave could make it difficult for the critically acclaimed film to make it into the mainstream.

The film's distributor, Fox Searchlight, is aware that showing slavery in an authentic light may be difficult for some viewers to watch, the Los Angeles Times reports. An unflinching look at whippings, lynching and rapes is a hard sell when most moviegoers are looking for a light night out after dinner.

According to the Times, Fox Searchlight has tried to channel advertising for the film toward some of the more positive aspects highlighting protagonist Solomon Northup's strength and determination in the face of absolute despair. "The materials have not tried to soft-pedal the film or mislead the audience," Fox Searchlight Co-President Nancy Utley told the Times.

"We're aware of it," Steve Gilula, Fox Searchlight's other co-president, added, addressing concerns that the film could be perceived as too difficult. "Our focus is making it successful and getting people into movie theaters."

That is not to say that the film isn't doing well. On opening weekend it grossed $960,000.

Kanye West and Sean "Diddy" Combs have spoken to the power of the film and the impact it has had on their lives. "This movie is very painful but very honest and is a part of the healing process. I beg all of you to take your kids -- everybody to see it," Combs said in a message on his cable channel Revolt TV, according to the Times.

The film is currently showing in 18 cities -- targeting those with a large black population. A hard look at the horrors of slavery still has to compete with other, less contentious, escapist films like Gravity and Captain Phillips. In addition, the film's lead actors, who have blown many away since the opening night, are not widely known, so the film doesn't carry an automatic audience through celebrity appeal.   

One thing is certain: The film's marketing team has its work cut out for it.

Read more at the Los Angeles Times.

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