Director Steve McQueen in 2011. (Ricardo DeAratanha, Los…)
The release strategy for Steve McQueen’s “Twelve Years a Slave” is coming into focus.
Fox Searchlight announced Tuesday that it, not parent company 20th Century Fox, would be releasing the period drama. The larger studio has overseen production and initially had it on its autumn schedule.
Searchlight also announced a release date of Dec. 27, saying it would open the movie in limited release and platform it into January.
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“Slave” returns McQueen and his “Shame” star Michael Fassbender, this time playing a malicious slave owner who comes into possession of a free Northern man named Solomon (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Solomon has been kidnapped and sold into slavery; the movie then chronicles Solomon's quest for dignity and freedom.
Searchlight released "Shame," a highly regarded drama about a man coping with a sexual addiction, as well, after acquiring it at the Telluride Film Festival.
McQueen’s movies -- he also directed the well-regarded IRA drama “Hunger,” which like this and “Shame" deal with imprisonment of one form or another -- tend to be well-reviewed but can be commercially difficult terrain. With Fassbender’s elevated profile and Brad Pitt starring as a kindly abolitionist, "Slave" comes with somewhat higher box-office hopes.
The news means that 2013 will mark the second straight Christmas season with a high-profile slavery movie, after Quentin Tarantino found box-office success with “Django Unchained” in 2012.
The end-of-year release can pay dividends with Oscar voters, most famously with Clint Eastwood’s “Million Dollar Baby,” which opened in late December and won a number of major Oscars, including best picture.
Still, with earlier voting deadlines and an ever-growing amount of awards noise in the fall, the tactic hasn’t worked lately. No best picture winner since “Million Dollar Baby” has come out after Thanksgiving.
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