Web users try to sink Christian Bale’s new movie before it even opens

Internet trolls gathering on a Turkish message board have posted over 60,000 highly negative reviews of The Promise – not yet in cinemas – on website IMDb because its backdrop is the ‘genocide’ of Armenians in 1915

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 April, 2017, 1:13pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 April, 2017, 1:13pm

The Promise doesn’t officially open in American cinemas until Friday. But on IMDb, a website where people can rate movies, the film has received more than 120,000 ratings - nearly 62,000 of them the lowest: one-star.

The ratings have nothing to do with the quality of the film, as it’s almost certain that most people haven’t seen the movie yet. Instead, a group of internet trolls gathering on a Turkish message board decided to try sinking The Promise with bad reviews.

The film – starring Charlotte Le Bon, Christian Bale and Oscar Isaac, and directed by Terry George of Hotel Rwanda fame – focuses on a fictional love triangle between the main characters. Two of the characters play Armenians, while the other plays an American photojournalist.

That sounds like standard silver screen fare, but it’s set against the backdrop of the mass killing of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians in the final years of the Ottoman Empire, beginning in 1915. Worldwide, at least 26 countries recognise the deaths as genocide, a term coined in the 1940s by Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin, who investigated the massacre, to describe the deliberate attempt to exterminate groups.

To Armenians, Americans of Armenian heritage and Turks, the facts and especially the nomenclature are deeply emotional issues. Turkey has long argued that the deaths were not genocide, the death toll has been inflated and that the casualties were victims of civil war and unrest. It’s a crime in Turkey, called “insulting Turkishness”, to “even raise the issue of what happened to the Armenians”, according to the New York Times.

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To keep its Nato ally Turkey happy, the United States has referred to the deaths as “atrocities” but stopped short of calling them a genocide. President Barack Obama had promised to change that before being elected president, saying in 2008 that “the Armenian genocide is not an allegation, a personal opinion or a point of view, but rather a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence”.

He didn’t keep that promise.

The inevitable controversy over the film surfaced when word of its upcoming release spread to a Turkish message board similar to America’s mischief-making 4chan or its more mainstream cousin Reddit. There, users decided to flood IMDb’s rating system with one-star reviews, hoping to sink the movie before it came out.

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One user’s comment, roughly translated by the Hollywood Reporter, read: “Guys, Hollywood is filming a big movie about the so-called Armenian genocide and the trailer has already been watched 700k times. We need to do something urgently.”

As final credits rolled during the movie’s September premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, it was already among the worst-rated movies on IMDb.

“All I know is that we were in about a 900-seat house with a real ovation at the end, and then you see almost 100,000 people who claim the movie isn’t any good,” producer Mike Medavoy told the Hollywood Reporter.

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At one point, the film had a 1.8 star rating on IMDb, placing it in the company of the 10 lowest-rated films on the entire website. The lowest rated film on IMDb with 1.4 stars is Code Name: K.O.Z., a fictional account of the 2013 Turkish government corruption scandal.

Some of these raters left short reviews. “The movie based on a lie so you know what to expect,” read one. “I fell for the positive reviews without realising they are written by armenians to push their political agenda on unsuspecting movie goers,” read another.

This is far from the first time internet trolls with a political point of view have mobilised to offer a low star rating to a piece of entertainment. Both comedian Amy Schumer’s book The Girl With the Lower-Back Tattoo and her latest TV stand-up special were targeted by members of r/the_donald, a subreddit purportedly composed of President Donald Trump supporters.

Men, meanwhile, gave overwhelmingly low reviews to the female-led Ghostbusters reboot last summer, throwing the averages “completely out of whack”, as The Washington Post reported.

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It’s difficult to ascertain if the ratings have any actual effect on the eventual sales. They ostensibly exist to help consumers sort through their many options, though some bloggers have claimed there isn’t a correlation between reviews and box office sales.

In Schumer’s case, the uninformed reviews led to negative stories appearing on some mainstream websites without the context of where many of the low ratings originated.

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But there’s no doubt that user-generated, starred reviews are proving to be increasingly useless.

Friday’s release of The Promise falls just before the annual Armenian day of remembrance for the mass killings, which is Monday.

“The Armenians were killed by their own government, not by the enemy, and they were killed in this systematic way that became the legal definition of the word,” said George, the film’s director.