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Zendaya, right, and Timothee Chalamet pose for photographers upon arrival at the premiere of the film 'Dune' on Oct. 18 in London.

Zendaya, right, and Timothee Chalamet pose for photographers upon arrival at the premiere of the film ‘Dune’ on Oct. 18 in London. (Joel C Ryan / AP)

 By Kipp Jones  October 27, 2021 at 10:26am

Warner Bros. Pictures is taking heat for its stance against racism after a poster for one of the studio’s new films for the Chinese market was conspicuously missing a black actress.

A promotional image for the film “Dune” has circulated seemingly everywhere in recent weeks. The poster teased an ensemble cast that included actress Sharon Duncan-Brewster, who is black.

Dune’s HBO Max release has been moved up a day: https://t.co/aYBsEHN9hP pic.twitter.com/uCHdzqBuhX

— GameSpot (@GameSpot) October 19, 2021

A poster released for the film in China was absent of Duncan-Brewster, the U.K.’s Daily Mail reported.

Black British actress ‘is removed from poster for new Dune movie in China’ https://t.co/J5lwZeFryl

— Daily Mail Online (@MailOnline) October 26, 2021

It isn’t clear right now if Warner Bros. was behind the decision not to market the British actress, or if that decision was made by a distributor in China. We do know this isn’t the first time something like this has happened with a major studio, a major film and an actor of color.

“Star Wars” actor John Boyega found himself nearly removed from a promotional poster in 2015 for Disney’s “The Force Awakens.” The actor was shrunken so small, he was barely visible.

Star Wars’ Finn (who happens to be black) and Chewbacca (happens to be Wookiee) get shafted in China. HT @asmuniz pic.twitter.com/ATpvcd51L6

— Ray 鄺羡華 (@raykwong) December 1, 2015

Warner Bros. and other major companies of course took a very vocal route during a time when there was a widespread perception that the U.S. was irredeemably racist last summer. The studio even went as far as to hire Black Lives Matter co-founder, Patrisse Cullors, to a multi-year deal in its television department.

“Black voices, especially Black voices who have been historically marginalized, are important and integral to today’s storytelling. Our perspective and amplification is necessary and vital to helping shape a new narrative for our families and communities. I am committed to uplifting these stories in my new creative role with the Warner Bros. family,” Cullors said when the deal was inked, Variety reported.

“As a long time community organizer and social justice activist, I believe that my work behind the camera will be an extension of the work I’ve been doing for the last twenty years. I look forward to amplifying the talent and voices of other Black creatives through my work,” Cullors, a newcomer to the world of TV, added.

Around the time that the country was embroiled in oftentimes violent protests — months before Cullors was hired — Warner Bros. tweeted its commitment to holding up those whom it said were being marginalized and attacked by a society that didn’t value them.

“We stand with our Black colleagues, talent, storytellers and fans — and all affected by senseless violence. Your voices matter, your messages matter. #BlackLivesMatter,” the company tweeted.

“Somebody has to stand when others are sitting. Somebody has to speak when others are quiet.” – Bryan Stevenson

We stand with our Black colleagues, talent, storytellers and fans – and all affected by senseless violence. Your voices matter, your messages matter. #BlackLivesMatter

— Warner Bros. (@warnerbros) May 31, 2020

In fact, on its website, the media conglomerate writes of diversity: “WarnerMedia, and our suite of brands like Warner Bros., HBO, TNT, TBS, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, Boomerang and many more, are committed to diversity, equity and inclusion, as moral and business imperatives.”

“It is essential that our workforce, content and creative partners reflect the diversity of our society and the world around us,” the company also states.

“At WarnerMedia, we are committed to preserving a culture of opportunity, inclusion and respect.”

Those statements feel awfully empty reading them today.

Do you think China’s oppressive government influences what Americans see on film and TV?

Have those running Warner Bros. lost their adoration for the Black Lives Matter movement? Does the production and distribution giant care for its black employees, or the performers of color who star in its films?

Let’s give the company the benefit of doubt and assume the answer is yes. But do the studio suits care about black employees more than filling theatre seats in China?

How the company responds to this saga will answer that question.

Johnathan “Kipp” Jones has worked as a reporter, an editor and a producer in radio, television and digital media. He is a proud husband and father.

Johnathan “Kipp” Jones has worked as an editor and producer in radio and television. He is a proud husband and father.

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