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When X Equals $ : Spike Lee's New Film Creates an Instant Icon

November 03, 1992|BRUCE HOROVITZ

At the same time, Warner Bros. also developed a study guide for the film that it will send to urban high school history teachers in the nation's top 100 markets. It will also send "Malcolm X" book covers to schools. There are even two separate sound tracks to the film: One features period music from the film aimed at adults; the other contains contemporary popular music from the movie aimed at teen-agers.

Certainly Lee--who declined to be interviewed but who has had a hands-on role in each step of the film's marketing--has taken that approach. For more than a year, Lee has been wearing the "X" cap just about everywhere. And his high-profile friends, including Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson, have also donned the caps.

"The 'X' has become an instant icon," said Edward H. Vick, chief executive of the San Francisco corporate identity firm Landor Associates. "It doesn't just stand for a movie, but for a passionate, deeply rooted issue: black pride."

It also stands for lots of free publicity--the best marketing that money can't buy.

"From Paris to Iowa, people are wearing 'X' hats," said Reginald Hudin, director of the films "House Party" and "Boomerang." "Spike has done a phenomenal job getting the word out."

Indeed, the "X" is everywhere. This month's Esquire magazine features a cover photo of Lee with his arms crossed in the "X" symbol. Print ads and billboards promoting the film simply show a giant "X"--something that required unusual cooperation from Denzel Washington, the actor who portrays Malcolm X in the film, who agreed not to have his face used in the print ads.

But Lee is still at odds with Malcolm X's widow, Betty Shabazz, the executor of the estate. She has hired Curtis Management Group of Indianapolis to license Malcolm X's name and likeness.

The firm is demanding back payments from Lee for use of the "X" logo.

The estate has no quarrel with Warner Bros.' use of the "X." At issue is the past sale of "X" merchandise by Lee's company, said Mark Roesler, president of Curtis Management, which also represents the estates of James Dean and Humphrey Bogart.

"One option is a lawsuit," said Roesler, whose firm has so far avoided taking Lee to court but which has sued five other companies that allegedly used the "X" without permission. "Suing Spike would be a last resort."

About 40 other licensees have paid the estate fees of up to 15% of sales to develop 160 products, ranging from $20 "X" caps to $60 "X" jerseys.

Briefly. . . .

The Los Angeles agency Rubin Postaer & Associates has won the estimated $14-million ad business for Phoenix-based US West Communications. . . . El Segundo toy maker Mattel is searching for a third agency to help handle its $80-million ad business, now divided between the Los Angeles offices of Ogilvy & Mather and Foote, Cone & Belding. . . . The Los Angeles agency Jon Byk Advertising has won the ad account for the Eisenhower Medical Center of Rancho Mirage and Palm Springs. . . . Julian Myers Public Relations, a "24-hour" entertainment industry PR agency, has opened in Century City.

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