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Controversy erupts over Italian posters for acclaimed Pohlad film

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Two movie posters for the Italian release of the Bill Pohlad-produced historical drama "12 Years a Slave" has the film's foreign sales agency up in arms, Variety reports.

The Hollywood trade publication says the posters predominantly feature two of the film's white co-stars -- Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender -- instead of "12 Years a Slave" star Chiwetel Ejiofor, who is black.

Ejiofor who plays the film's main character, Solomon Northrup, is also featured on the posters, but his image is dwarfed by large head shots of Pitt and Fassbender.

While Fassbender has been attracting attention in the Best Supporting Actor category during movie awards season, Pitt's part is considered a "minor role," Variety says.

Bill Pohlad, one of the sons of late Twins owner Carl Pohlad, produced "12 Years a Slave" along with Pitt and five others.

A spokesman for Lionsgate Films, whose subsidiary Summit Entertainment handled the sales of the film to overseas distributor BIM, said the posters featuring Pitt and Fassbender "were unauthorized and were not approved by any of the producers or licensors of the film," the Los Angeles Times said.

The Times said Lionsgate is actively working on getting the posters recalled.

The film to date has received Best Picture nominations for the Film Independent Spirit Awards, the Critics Choice Movie Awards and the Golden Globe Awards. It is also considered a frontrunner for major Oscar nominations next month.

Ejiofor is in the running for Best Actor in the same award races, in addition to his Best Male Performance by a Male Actor nod for the Screen Actors Guild Awards.

Criticizing the posters, Vanity Fair writer Katey Rich said the release of the marketing materials is "proof of the tired maxim that black actors not named Will Smith or Denzel Washington can't sell films overseas, and a more hamfisted and wrong-headed version of the kind of ugly marketing tweaks that happen all the time for international audiences."

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