[This was a piece I wrote for the Guardian back in October that got spiked. Given Exam's out now with its representative cast (and not a ginge in sight), up it goes here.]
Having red hair at my school in the ‘90s was a crime on a par with chronic B.O. Contemporary icons for gingers like me were seriously thin on the ground: Geri Halliwell (eurgh), Nicole Kidman (too distant) and a fairytale hooker with big teeth – thanks a lot, Gary Marshall. But things are different now. Girls have Amy Adams and Isla Fisher to look up to: pretty, funny actresses with lovely hair and good personal hygiene. It should be easier to be a redhead.
So I was genuinely shocked when celeb-stuffed marriage comedy Couples Retreat’s British poster campaign replaced the auburn hair of Vince Vaughn’s love interest, played by Malin Akerman, with the actress’s usual blonde. It’s ridiculous, isn’t it, that this simple bit of Photoshopping infuriates me more than 26 years of jokes about ninjas, biscuits, collars and cuffs, but seeing that poster was like a school trick played 10 years too late.
It’s not spoiling much of the film to say that Akerman is a big old ginge the whole way through. A colleague suggested the film might have just snapped her before filming started and not bothered with post-production– fine, until you see the American ad (toned down, but still red) and the amazingly clunky job done on Akerman’s male co-stars in the Brit ad, now all sporting jet-black hair like a comedy Just For Men ad.
So what are the marketeers thinking? Maybe that the British would boycott a film with a redhead on the ad, but go “Oh well, we can’t leave now we’ve bought the popcorn” when the film parades her gingerosity for two hours. Vince Vaughn’s already starred with one redhead love interest (Isla Fisher in Wedding Crashers) so maybe it’s fine, as long as the ginger’s not on the poster.
It’s not the first time red hair has been toned down to avoid scaring the horses. Spider-Man 2 cunningly merged Kirsten Dunst’s flaming hair with a flaming skyline and, while Richard Gere was charmed to see Julia Roberts’ tumbling auburn curls on his pillow, Pretty Woman’s poster carries the scraggy brown locks of a dodgy bathroom dye job.
Cate Blanchett in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button [poster, in the film], Emma Stone in The Rocker [poster, in the film], Nicole Kidman in To Die For [poster, in the film], Bryce Dallas Howard in The Village [poster, in the film ], have all have been bleached, blonded or browned down for the posters.
Now, clearly not every silver screen redhead gets hit with the de-saturate function – the quirky best mate role pays the bills, after all – but given the few redheads that even end up on posters, it happens enough to make it clear that red is a no-go area. Cartoon colours are fine: see Red Sonja, Run Lola Run, G.I. Joe. But natural shades? Eww. Hepburn and Hayworth were lucky they could hide behind black and white.
Ironically, there are dozens of prominent redhead actresses filling up the small screen. True Blood’s got three major players in its second season, which is practically a bonanza. But Tinseltown? I count four leads. Julianne Moore once joked to fellow ginge Conan O’Brien that there were so few of them that they should start a group. Why then can’t Hollywood let them be? Blonde is beautiful, brunette too. They’re just not enough for me.