Film Targeted for Exposing the Armenian Genocide

'The Promise,' a $90 million epic drama, bluntly tells of Christians slaughtered during WWI

by Zachary Leeman | Updated 01 May 2017 at 4:21 PM

Starring Christian Bale and Oscar Isaac, “The Promise” is a film you likely should be aware of — but it’s doubtful you or many others have even heard of it. Out for nearly two weeks already, the picture hasn’t even managed to earn $10 million at the box office.

Based on a story  about the Armenian genocide during World War I, “The Promise” was a controversial movie from the beginning. The calculated slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire is something the Turkish government (the modern-day state of the Ottoman Empire) and many politicians refuse to officially acknowledge.

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“Promise” director Terry George has said that many films had been attempted in Hollywood about the dark period in history during which Christian Armenians were slaughtered — but government forces worked in the shadows to stop them.

“The attempts to tell the story of the Armenian genocide by Hollywood are quite fascinating,” George told Deadline. “There were two serious attempts to do it in the ’50s, to make a film of a book called ‘Forty Days of Musa Dagh,’ which, in the ’40s, had become a bestseller across Europe and America. It was written by Franz Werfel. MGM or one of the other studios tried to put it together. The Turkish government leaned on the State Department and the U.S. government at the time, who then leaned on Hollywood, and the film was stopped.”

He continued, “Sylvester Stallone tried to make the same book in the ’70s and had the same thing happen. There was a current that was like, ‘The studio doesn’t want to make this.’ The Turkish government had become involved, and the sense that I got, and the research seems to show, [that] Turkey has enormous, disproportionate power and influence because of its strategic position. In the ’50s and ’70s, it was the Cold War and where they were on the border, and their situation with Israel. Today, clearly, they’re just as influential.”

This influence is why George chose to create his movie without major publicity. "We deliberately flew under the radar," he said.

Thus, "The Promise" accomplished something other films about the Armenian genocide never could: It was finished and released.

"We deliberately flew under the radar."

However, the final product has faced hurdles that many speculate have come from the Turkish government and Armenian genocide-deniers.

The New York Times reports that Daniel Giménez Cacho — an actor from "Promise" — said he was contacted by a Turkish ambassador before filming started. The ambassador wanted to emphasize that the genocide of 1.5 million Christians had never happened.

"The Promise" also walked into theaters with strangely bad buzz. The movie racked up over 50,000 one-star ratings on the website IMDB. This was before the film ever hit theaters and had only premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival; there, only a few thousand people actually saw it.

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Worse still is the release of a competing film entitled, "The Ottoman Lieutenant," a movie starring Josh Hartnett that was reportedly backed by Turkish investors. The similarities between "Ottoman" and "Promise" are strangely close; yet each film holds a very different view about the slaughter of Christian Armenians.

Both movies follow love triangles set during the disputed events during World War I. "The Promise" follows three Armenians caught up in the genocide, while "Ottoman" follows a handsome, heroic Turkish officer who is in love with an Armenian woman and saves Armenians through the course of the movie.

"It's a sort of mirror image of our film, but with a totally denialist perspective," George told The New York Times. He said he thought the Turkish government and president had a deliberate hand in the making of the film as a way to undercut and draw attention away from George's movie.

"Ottoman" faced troubles during its creation because Turkish producers had complete rights to the work and reportedly took over editing duties — they protested some of the violence in the movie committed by Turkish people.

"Joe [Ruben, the director] was so enraged by their version [the Turkish producers' version] of events he attempted to take his name off the film, but he realized contractually he was obliged to remain silent," the film's first assistant director, Michael Steele, told The New York Times. Ruben has done no publicity for his movie.

"Ottoman" has already opened in Turkey, while most people doubt "The Promise" will ever get a release there.

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Before his death in 2015, entrepreneur and Armenian descendent Kirk Kerkorian pledged the entire budget of "The Promise" to filmmakers. This meant "The Promise" was able to bypass the struggles and hurdles other filmmakers had to endure when trying to make films about the Armenian genocide.

However, big stars and a big budget didn't mean they could outrun the power and influence of governments that would like to sweep the mass slaughter of a group of people under the rug. "The Promise" received little publicity for this reason and clearly faced deliberate attempts to stall its potential popularity.

So the film may not bring in hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office — but it has accomplished something so much greater by simply being made. It exists forever, and that is something no government body or frightened bureaucrat will ever be able to stop. And if the film ever does earn a profit, producers have guaranteed they will donate that money to humanitarian charities.

The story of a shameful episode of world history has now been made into an expensive drama headlined by popular and talented actors. "The Promise" will live on and find an audience, especially since the world is slowly beginning to learn of the Armenian genocide on a bigger scale than ever before — and that's putting an unusual amount of pressure on Turkey and politicians that deny the genocide ever happened.

A documentary entitled, "Architects of Denial" is about Armenian genocide deniers and will be released in October, with the backing of producers like Dean Cain. The recently released trailer showed filmmakers confronting U.S. politicians and putting them on the spot, forcing them to admit their denial of the events during World War I.

"The genocide is burned into the soul of the Armenian diaspora," George told The Times. "Until they get some kind of recognition, it's not going to go away."

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