News Column

The Kansas City Star Mary Sanchez column

November 4, 2013


Nov. 04--As rumors go, the one about some nebulous movie executive stopping Johnson County theaters from running the film "12 Years a Slave" is pretty lame.

"Johnson County is showing its true colors," accused one misinformed letter-writer in The Star last week. X + Y = racism.

Not so fast.

This flimsy theory is easily disproved with a bit of schooling about the film industry, topped with a dash of common sense.

Here goes: "12 Years a Slave" is a platform movie -- a smaller budget film intended for an initial smaller roll-out in fewer theaters than a wide-release film like "Avatar." The difference is scale, funding for promotion and perceptions about its market appeal, all decisions that are made by the distributors.

If the movie catches a buzz (as this one has and deserves) the momentum pushes it to more screens, the next "platform."

Gerry Lopez, CEO and president of AMC Entertainment, found his theaters on the receiving end of a social media campaign to spread this race-baiting rumor.

Lopez first saw the film in Los Angeles several weeks ago at a black filmmakers forum. "It's gripping. It's educational. It's fantastic," Lopez said. "But it's not a wide-release movie."

That fact dictated why Lopez had to negotiate to get the distributors to release another cut for AMC's Ward Parkway theaters, which he correctly points out is across the street from Johnson County. AMC's Town Center 20 -- clearly deep within JoCo at 117th and Nall -- hosted a sold-out screening last week. On Friday, the film will open at Town Center, in addition to its placement at Glenwood Arts (also in Johnson County) and at AMC Independence. I saw it at Cinemark on The Plaza among a nearly sold-out audience.

Obviously race is central to the movie, the true story of a free black man, kidnapped and sold into slavery. Heinous brutality is starkly portrayed.

But as opposed to those who are leaping to false conclusions based on rumor, the movie itself is full of richly layered nuances about race within the era portrayed. Galling rationalizations keep white and black people securely within their societal roles.

The film is cinematic grace. The starring element is the lead character's unwavering dignity and resolve to survive, while suffering through the worst sin this country ever committed.

Go see the film. You won't have trouble finding it at a local theater.

To reach Mary Sanchez, call 816-234-4752 or send email to


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