Neighborhood Watch

The tragic killing of Florida teen Trayvon Martin is such a widely reported and consistently commented-upon national news item that it was bound to have impact beyond the family of the victim and the community in which it took place. The details of the shooting have yet to be poured over in a courtroom setting, which will probably entail another long stretch of media attention, and already the effects of the story have started to hit Hollywood. More specifically, they’ve affected the marketing of Akiva Schaffer’s upcoming comedy, Neighborhood Watch, which stars Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, and Richard Ayoade as a quartet of overzealous members of their local neighborhood watch program.

The story and the movie are being connected because Martin’s shooting came at the hands of a man who was both a member of a similar program, and also thought to be by many overzealous in his pulling of the trigger. The real big problem is that the film’s teaser trailer features a moment in which Hill’s character makes a gun with his finger and pulls the trigger while it’s pointed at a group of neighborhood kids. As you can imagine, that plays as being fairly offensive in light of recent events, so Fox has pulled the ad and the film’s first poster from Florida markets.

The big question that needs to be asked now is whether this will be the end of the studio’s troubles when it comes to this film being released alongside media coverage of this case, or if we can eventually expect to see its release date pushed back and maybe even cancelled. When asked about the matter by THR, a Fox spokesperson had this to say, “We are very sensitive to the Trayvon Martin case, but our film is a broad alien-invasion comedy and bears absolutely no relation to the tragic events in Florida. The movie, which is not scheduled for release for several months, was made and these initial marketing materials were released before this incident ever came to light. The teaser materials were part of an early phase of our marketing and were never planned for long-term use. Above all else, our thoughts go out to the families touched by this terrible event.”

It’s true that this is a comedy about aliens with little connection to the unfortunate death of a young boy, and from a pragmatic level it doesn’t seem like it should be scrapped just because of a tenuous connection to a tragedy that took place in Florida; but, on a human level, will the public be ready to laugh at the concept of a neighborhood watch crew taking their jobs too seriously by the time this film’s July 27th release date rolls around?

That seems like it’s still a ways away, but who knows how much debate and coverage this case will be the cause of before it fades from the public eye. I’m sure there were a lot of movies shot in New York that didn’t intend on altering themselves after the events of 9/11, but most of them ended up getting cuts regardless, just out of the sheer concern of how the public might react when confronted with images of the twin towers still standing. Could the same thing happen here, where we see a rash of movies that deal with authority figures overstepping their bounds getting either altered or shelved by the studios, out of a fear of public outcry? And if Neighborhood Watch does end up getting altered or shelved, will that be a senseless bit of censorship, or just an unfortunate situation that’s out of everyone’s control?

These are tough questions to answer. Personally, I still want to see the movie, and I’ll be able to put any feelings I have about the Martin case aside while I’m watching it; but people currently living in Sanford, Florida might feel very differently. What’s your take on the situation? Is it right that this ad got pulled, and are you still willing to see the film? [THR via /Film]


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