Fox Searchlight Bosses Say Disney Had No Problems With 'Jojo Rabbit'

Monica Schipper/FilmMagic
Steve Gilula and Nancy Utley

But Nancy Utley and Steve Gilula did admit Taika Waititi's Nazi satire had been a "big test."

When details of Jojo Rabbit, in which director Taika Waititi plays an imaginary comedic version of Adolf Hitler, first emerged earlier this year, some concern was raised about how the film might go down with Fox Searchlight’s new family-friendly owners at Disney.

As it turns out, this concern was also felt at Fox Searchlight.

Speaking at the BFI London Film Festival on Friday in a wide-ranging discussion celebrating their 20 years at the helm of the prestige banner, co-chairs Steve Gilula and Nancy Utley admitted that Jojo Rabbit had been a “big test” following Disney’s $71.3 billion takeover of Fox.

“When we first screened it for Bob Iger and Alan Horn, I didn’t know what they were going to say about our Nazi satire,” said Utley. “But they really appreciated it and its message, and what it’s trying to do.”

Gilula added that, for all the noise made about Disney’s squeaky-clean image, the studio had a long track record of putting out un-Disney films on their other labels.

“Disney owned Miramax, and released all kinds of movies,” he said. “And back in December 2017, when Bob Iger first announced the [Fox] deal, we had just released Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and The Shape of Water. Those are not Disney films.”

The execs both pointed to Disney’s forward-thinking movements in streaming as a hugely positive opportunity for Fox Searchlight, with Utley admitting that Fox was “not as highly evolved.”

Although Gilula said that theatrical was still the “core business,” the banner will begin making content for streaming and has launched both TV and shortform divisions. And when its output deal with HBO runs out in 2022, its library will move to Disney’s Hulu service. Utley also suggested Fox Searchlight would make start making films directly for Hulu.

As for changes since the Disney purchase, whereas Fox has seen swinging cuts, little has altered for its prestige imprint.

“There are some procedural changes,” said Utley. “But the actual way we work is the same. We’re on the same lot. Our building is actually quite important to us. It’s a shabby bungalow, quite un-corporate. And we have things you’re not supposed to have … like dogs.”