Getting the Word Out on Amazing Grace

We’ve received more email about Amazing Grace than just about any other film we’ve covered in the last eight months. By and large, reaction to the film has been very positive—but some folks don’t quite understand what Walden Media is doing in marketing this film through its Bristol Bay label.

One reader, Neil Mammen, wrote:

Last week we went to see Amazing Grace… But, the next day I asked a few of our friends… if they were going to see it. They were nonchalant about it. I asked what they thought the movie was about. They said: Oh, it was about the man who wrote the song “Amazing Grace.” They had no idea that it was about the fight to free the slaves. I think Walden Media and Micheal Flaherty are throwing away a great opportunity to make lots of money. With my audacity to think I know better, the message I’d like to get across to them somehow is that: They are missing out on a multi-million dollar market because their ads say NOTHING about the fact that this movie is about freeing the slaves. Imagine how many millions more would go to this movie if they knew it was a historical account about freeing the slaves in England.

Admittedly, Walden Media is not primarily pushing Amazing Grace through its usual promotional channels: schools and churches. In part, this is because the films released under the Walden label are based on books which are known commodities to wide audiences, and schools and churches are the most convenient avenues that Walden has to tap into those audiences.

Why not do this with Amazing Grace? First, it’s not based on a best-selling children’s book beloved by educators and/or pastors. Second, it’s adult fare distributed though daughter company Bristol Bay, not through parent company Walden Media. This is a “branding” issue.

So what are the primary marketing channels that Bristol Bay is using to promote the film?

Believe it or not, one of them is the heavily secularist art-house audience. The press pass I was issued was to an exclusive screening for Seattle International Film Festival members. I was stunned, thinking, “This has got to be the most hostile audience imaginable for this film! These are folks used to applauding stuff like Babel and Fight Club, not films from Christian-backed Walden Media!” I couldn’t have been more wrong. The audience was enthralled.

Another promotional avenue being exercised for this film is a coalition of human rights and slavery-awareness organizations, such as International Justice Mission. The idea, apparently, is getting word about the film directly into the hands of people who have already demonstrated that they care about the issue—not trying to use the film to raise awareness with others.

I do talk to Flaherty once every year or so (through publicist-arranged phone calls), so I can assure our readers that Walden’s promotional strategies are quite deliberate, and very cannily accurate in reaching a film’s intended audience.

So I have two observations.

First, the fact that certain people have no idea that the film is about the abolition of slavery tells me that these people probably aren’t Walden’s intended audience. And that tells us something about such people’s natural interests (and I don’t mean that as an insult).

Second, the fact that Walden has judged that the Church is not the intended audience for this film is pretty damning. Secularists, it appears, are generally more concerned about social justice than the Church, it would appear. In this day and age, we’re too busy being preoccupied with abortion and homosexuality to be bothered much by the oppression of fellow human beings. It was so different two hundred years ago.


I share Neil’s concern.  But the movie seems to be holding its legs pretty well, so Walden’s strategy may be paying off.  They’ve reached their natural audience for the film first, which is allowing the film to stay in the theaters.  That gives a chance for the word to get out to those who aren’t normally invested in the slavery issue.