‘Beirut’ updates: has our backlash made a difference?

When people first caught wind of a film about Beirut being made by a major Hollywood studio, a combination of excitement and worry filled the air with many wondering whether or not the film, titled Beirut, would accurately represent the country. Early in January, however, the prospects of that depiction became bleak with the release of the trailer for the movie.

Starring Jon Hamm and Rosamund Pike, Beirut follows a former US diplomat returning to a war-torn 1982 Lebanon after being away for a decade to save a friend. The trailer’s release prompted backlash from the people of Lebanon and its blogosphere for its smearing depiction — not of a country at war, but rather of a land looking generic enough to be any war-torn country. Even if this was 1982, a time of war in Lebanon, the Orientalist, over-simplified, almost arrogant decision to cluster Beirut (and many other countries in other such cases) into a manufactured bubble derived from a western perspective fueled the anger of many online, both locally and internationally.

Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival

Countless articles were written on how problematic the film’s representation of the country appeared to be, from the generic, unspecific war-torn setting, to the lack of any Lebanese cast members, to the premiere date being set to April 13, the anniversary of the bloodiest war in the country’s history, which only added to the ignorance of the producers.

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The backlash also manifested in the start of a series of purposeful down-rates and negative reviews on IMDb from film fans that will undoubtedly increase with the film’s release. By contrast, critics have mostly been more lenient in approaching the film, but some platforms like The Film Stage, for instance, have been far less forgiving, condemning the film of its treatment of the title city.

And while it’s too early to determine how critics and fans in general are going to feel about the film, the backlash seems to have resulted in one big change: the release date of Beirut, previously April 13, has been pushed up to April 11. Without an official statement explaining this, I can’t say for sure if the change in the release date is a direct result of the reactions to the trailer (though how quietly that happened would champion the theory). But if it is, which I truly believe, then it is a testament to our voices, and to the disarming power we carry when we unite them and try to take action.

It remains unclear whether or not the film will be screened in Lebanon, and amid the censoring campaign run by ministries and irrelevant (who are we kidding, though?) authorities, it wouldn’t come as much of a surprise if Beirut were to indeed be banned. That being said, it’s paramount for audiences here to see the film and to react to it. Besides my reservations against the righteousness of banning art, allowing the film to play only in the west will only perpetuate the very stereotypes we are fighting against. We don’t need the film banned, we need to see the film and write about it from our perspectives to engage the west in long overdue conversations about representation instead.

There are still miles to go before the depictions and representations of our countries are faithful, but this could be a step that is part of a larger movement against misrepresentation in Hollywood. And let it only be the beginning. So, speak up, be fair and critical, and make better cinema.

Beirut opens in theaters on April 11, 2018.

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Reel Rambler

A review of movies - old, new, local, and foreign - as seen through the eyes of a 22 year-old based in Beirut.

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