'Guns Akimbo' Premiere Still On After Director Jason Lei Howden Cyberbullied Critics of Color
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'Guns Akimbo' Premiere Still On After Director Jason Lei Howden Cyberbullied Critics of Color

Over the weekend, Guns Akimbo director Jason Lei Howden cyberbullied Black film critic Valerie Complex and multi-ethnic critic @DarkSkyLady on Twitter. Now, the film's distributor Saban Films has decided to move forward with release of the film, which stars Daniel Radcliffe and Samara Weaving, despite the New Zealand director's tirade through both his personal and the film's official Twitter accounts.

It all began after a screenshot of a four-year-old private message from Much Ado About Cinema editor Dilara Elbir surfaced. Elbir used the slur “n****a” in the direct message and once the DM was revealed to the public, Elbir initially denied writing the slur, asserting that the DM had been photoshopped, according to film critic Robert Daniels' article detailing the scandal at RogerEbert.com. However, Elbir eventually wrote an apology on Twitter on February 20. Elbir’s usage of the slur, along with her past questionable behavior, compelled staff of Much Ado About Cinema (many of whom are young critics of color) to distance themselves from Elbir and resign from the site en masse. Some Twitter users began to harass Elbir, as well, which eventually eclipsed the legitimate critique she was receiving from Black people for using the racial slur.

Elbir then posted three videos, one of which included an attempted suicide. Thanks to the help of director Barry Jenkins and the former Much Ado About Cinema writers leaping into action, Elbir was able to receive medical attention and is now recovering in the hospital.

Howden then entered the fray, blaming the critics of color who resigned from Much Ado About Cinema for Elbir's suicide attempt. Calling them woke cyberbullies" and trolls," Howden tweeted out the Twitter handles of the critics who'd resigned to his followers. He also defended Elbir's usage of the slur, writing that it was "obviously an ironic joke." Other non-Black people on Twitter also tweeted agreement with him, making light of Elbir's use of the slur and shaming the critics of color for being upset over Elbir's use of the slur with messages to be "kind" to Elbir instead of pursuing accountability. That's when Black film critic and writer Valerie Complex, tweeted to Howden about his defense of Elbir's use of the slur. Multi-ethnic film critic @DarkSkyLady also wrote a Medium post explaining why Howden's defense of the slur was problematic. Howden responded by screengrabbing pictures of Complex and @DarkSkyLady's faces and Twitter handles in a tweet calling them both "toxic, disgusting film writers" and falsely accused the two of being responsible for Elbir's attempted suicide. “Remember their names,” he wrote in the since-deleted post. The director even took to the Guns Akimbo official Twitter account to accuse them of being responsible for Elbir's attempted suicide.

Complex, who says she wasn't online at the time Elbir was being bullied, told Shadow And Act that the experience made her feel terrified":

“Terrified, because even though his platform isn’t as big as mine on social media, he’s a film director with some power," she said. "The paranoia of maybe my career might be in jeopardy crept in because after all he is white and male in the industry and we know what that can mean."

“Once I got over that, I became annoyed that I constantly had to fend off his trolls and waste a bunch of my time over the last 72 hours feeling like I had to defend myself for something I didn’t do. It’s been a tremendous time waster for me," she continued. "Now I’m growing angry. One because I was gaslighted and at one point thought I brought this whole thing on myself. I stuck up for people who were being targeted for something they had nothing to with. Now I’m at the center of something that didn’t first include me, which takes away from the actual person who was in need of help, Dilara Elbir. But also angry at the quiet from the 'be kind' community. Folks that told us to be kind to Dilara are silent now that myself and other [women of color] and non-binary folks are at the center of this. Where is the empathy for us too? A lot of people reposting threads and denouncing Jason Lei Howden were dapping him up initially. It’s performative allyship and I see it all."

DarkSkyLady, who identifies as nonbinary, wrote in their latest Medium article released Sunday that “due to the fact that Jason targeted me because he sees me as a woman (as do most people who come at me) this will be about my perspective as it relates to Black women, women of color."

Like Complex, they wrote in their article how they went through a variety of emotions including fear, anger, doubt and pain.

"Honestly, these emotions are cycled through repeatedly. But the one that stayed was anger," they wrote. “How dare you try to use a lie to attack and hurt me and endanger my welfare and other women who simply put you in check for running your mouth about something you know nothing about."

On Monday, it seemed as if there would be some consequences for Howden's actions. Awards Watch's Erik Anderson tweeted that Box Office Mojo no longer featured Guns Akimbo on its release calendar as of Sunday, and on IMDB, Saban Films was no longer listed as the film's U.S. distributor.

However, Saban Films told IndieWire that the release of the film will continue as planned:

“We are releasing Guns Akimbo’this Friday, February 28,” a Saban Films representative told IndieWire on Monday. “While we do not condone, agree or share Mr. Howden’s online behavior, which is upsetting and disturbing, we are supportive of the film and all the hard work and dedication that has gone into making Guns Akimbo.” Daniels wrote in his article that he's asked Saban Films to remove his pull quote from the film's promo materials.

The outcome (or lack thereof) is no surprise to Complex.

“I never thought they were going to pull it," Complex told Shadow And Act after Saban Films' statement."I wasn’t even worried about that. But 'I’m sorry to all involved' would have been nice. I know some think it’s unreasonable to ask the studio to apologize. [But Howden] is a reflection of them," she said.

DarkSkyLady also told Shadow And Act, “It feels like the weak response from Saban and the non-apology from Jason Lei Howden, which in essence still blames us and lies-he wouldn't have targeted us if we didn't bully Dilara-is standard fare.  No accountability. Intent over impact. As such I'm not required to accept what wasn't meant for me but their film."

Shadow And Act has reached out to the actors of Guns Akimbo for comment on the situation and will update this article if we hear back.

If you know of anyone in need, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 1-800-273-8255 or visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org to chat online. 

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