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Don’t Feed the Trolls: How Armenian Genocide Drama ‘The Promise’ Responded to an Internet Hate Campaign

It can happen even when a movie stars Oscar Isaac and Christian Bale. Here's what filmmakers can do to combat an online smear campaign.

Oscar Isaac The Promise

Oscar Isaac in “The Promise”

Jose Haro

This weekend marks the moment of truth for “The Promise,” when Open Road Films’ $100 million love story set against the Armenian genocide of World War I will open on 2,000 screens. Directed by Terry George, best known for directing 2004’s “Hotel Rwanda,” the film follows a romantic triangle between an Armenian medical student (Oscar Isaac), an Armenian artist (Charlotte Le Bon) and an American photojournalist (Christian Bale).

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Early critics’ reviews of the film have been very mixed, and in the seven months since the movie’s premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, a campaign of Armenian genocide deniers have attacked the movie by voting down its scores on IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes. While online ratings can reflect honest opinion, more than 60,000 online accounts gave “The Promise” the lowest possible score on IMDb the day after its Toronto premiere — when the only people who had actually seen the film were in the festival audience, which gave the film a standing ovation.

“It wasn’t very smart of them to do that the day after,” said producer Mike Medavoy. “It makes absolutely no sense.” While Medavoy added that the controversy could wind up raising awareness for both the Armenian genocide and the movie, online smear tactics can also taint a film’s reputation.

“For some consumers, seeing a ‘false’ one-star review may keep them away,” Open Road Films senior VP of digital marketing Matt Lipson said in email to IndieWire. “It shouldn’t be the case, but the nature of the web can sometimes facilitate this kind of attack.”

Charlotte Le Bon as Ana Khesarian and Christian Bale as Chris Myers in The Promise. Directed by Terry George.

Charlotte Le Bon and Christian Bale in “The Promise”

Jose Haro

On March 10, Paladin released “The Ottoman Lieutenant” which, like “The Promise,” was set during World War I and focused on a love story between an American nurse and a Turkish officer. That film portrays the Armenian carnage not as an act of genocide but as a simple consequence of war, mirroring the official position of the current Turkish government.

In an interview with IndieWire, “The Promise” producer Eric Esrailian, the great-grandchild of Armenian genocide survivors, called “The Ottoman Lieutenant” a “denialist film basically funded by the government of Turkey.” All proceeds from “The Promise,” which was wholly financed by late Armenian billionaire Kirk Kerkorian, will go to charitable organizations.

It’s unlikely that “The Promise” will suffer at the box office from the earlier release of “The Ottoman Lieutenant;” that film opened on just 200 screens and earned a 26 Metascore. “The Promise” stands a greater risk from the thousands of online trolls, but here’s three lessons from how the filmmakers responded.

Don’t feed the trolls.

Instead of drawing attention to the online smear campaign, production company Survival Pictures ignored the negative ratings and forged ahead with the marketing as if it didn’t exist. “You can’t stop people from going on social media and organizing campaigns to either up-vote things or down-vote things,” Esrailian said. He added that many online comments attacking the film were clearly identifiable as coming from trolls rather than people who have actually seen the movie. “It’s clear when someone says, ‘F Armenia’ or ‘hate Armenians.’ That doesn’t look like a review.”

Find partners who will spread a positive message.

Survival Pictures launched a #KeepThePromise social campaign and found a long list of allies to share online videos spreading the truth about the Armenian genocide, without mentioning the denialist agenda.

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Have faith in quality storytelling.

One reason Esrailian said he isn’t concerned about the low scores on IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes is audience test scores for “The Promise” were strong and a much better indicator of how a film will ultimately be received.

“We’ve tested it in so many different ways with so many random audiences that we feel confident that if people see the film, they can appropriately rate the movie,” he said. He added that he views the IMDb and Rotten Tomato scores as a “badge of honor” that speaks to the power of “The Promise” to spread awareness about the Armenian genocide. “If the film was terrible, the denialists and human rights abusers would just leave it alone.”

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Comments

fo

It’s what Turks always do: make crimes against humanity and then deny them, play the victim and repeat the same crimes again. They commited genocide not only against Armenians but also against Greeks (many times) and Assyrians. My great grandfathers were Greeks of Asia Minor and managed to survive from the genocide Turks commited in 1922: while they survived thousands of Greeks died – the American Embassador in Smyrna described all these in his book “The Plight of Asia”. Turks deny this also because they continuously repeat the same crimes without any remorse: they killed thoudans of people during their invasion in Cyprus in 1974 – now they are doing the same with Kurds. But they play the innocent despite the proofs using such tactics like down voting a movie that tells the truth about them.

Rania

Looking forward to seeing the film.

I’m sure there are those for whom the deluge of one-star ratings will be an enticement to check out what the fuss is about.

James

Turkey is a country gone mad…Are we talking about a ‘democracy’ here or something more like North Korea? Turkey is not a trustworthy NATO ally and should not become part of the EU, if they can’t deal with their shameful history. What they did to the Armenians was as bad as what the Germans did to the Jews. The Turks killed 1.5 million helpless Christians and stole everything they owned. I will never buy any Turkish products in my life and hope that this country of liars gets what it deserves.

Deniz

The Armenian and Greek lobbies have worked together for 40 years in a wide range of anti-Turk campaigns. These communities have vehemently promoted one sided tales with the intent of demonizing the Turic character. I’ve read many of the reviews and hardly noticed a foul Turkish commentor as Esra liana assumes. On the contrary, most of the racist and obscene comments are from the Armenians and Greeks that have grown up with Turk hatred in their Sunday schools. My ancestors were murdered by Armenian troops and did not survive, like most Armenians and Greeks identifying themselves as having ancestors that survived. Most of the articles assume that it was a period where only Armenians suffered. It was a period where Ottoman Turkey was in shambles, where the British were invading from the north, Greeks the west, french and Italians from the south, the Russians along with 150,000 Armenian legions from the east. While the ottomans were trying to stop rebellions and invasions in Lebanon, Palestine, arabia (lawrence), Libya etc. The ottomans had 400,000 troops and 250,000 were in gallop olivernjusa@yahoo.com, 100,000 elsewhere. Hardly any troops in Armenia or the east. It is impossible for a handful of troops to beat 150,000 Armenian troops, while killing 1.5 million. The total Armenian population was 1.5 million and 1.2 to 1.3 million survived according Armenian (Nubaryan), french and Russian census.3.5 million Turks died. You wonder why the Turks are Denying? Because it was an armed uprising started in 1877 by armenian militias and the ottomans did nothing until 1915, when they decided to arrest ringleader and deport only Armenian populations in the east that had allied with the Armenian terrorists by today’s standards, that were ethnically cleansing Turks, Kurds and Circassians. 3.5 million died in eastern Turkey, Caucasus and modern day Armenia that was 85% Turkish until the 20th century. Not one Turk or mosque remains. The Greeks and Serbs cleansed 2 million. The evidence is there. But jot one courageous journalist mentions this. All are being sensitive to the Armenian lie machine without integrity.

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