‘What’s a UN journalist?’: New film on Syrian refugees sparks ire for lack of Arab casting

Olivia Munn is set to play the lead in feature drama “Aleppo.” (File/AFP)
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Updated 26 September 2020

‘What’s a UN journalist?’: New film on Syrian refugees sparks ire for lack of Arab casting

  • ‘The Newsroom’ actress Olivia Munn selected to star in drama ‘Aleppo’
  • Many online users are concerned that the film will center on a Western journalist, while the Syrian refugee will simply be seen as an extra

DUBAI/LONDON: “What is a UN journalist?” asked the Twitterverse on Friday after the announcement came that actress Olivia Munn would be playing a UN reporter alongside a Syrian refugee in the feature film titled “Aleppo.”

It’s been announced that US actress Olivia Munn is set to play the lead in the feature drama, a story about a Syrian refugee and UN journalist (Munn), who are brought together by their escape from war-afflicted Syria. 

Many online users are concerned that the film will center on a Western journalist, while the Syrian refugee will simply be seen as an extra - given that the job of a UN journalist simply does not exist and will ironically be played by an actress known for her role as a journalist in Aaron Sorkin’s hit show “The Newsroom.”

“Jesus Christ. Firstly, there’s no such thing as a ‘UN journalist’; secondly there was no UN in those last terrifying months of Aleppo, and the only journalists around were Syrians,” Human Rights Watch researcher Sophie McNeill tweeted.

“How any film about Aleppo can centre anyone but brave Syrians is insane. Who writes this s***?”

Nada Homsi, a Beirut-based Syrian reporter and producer for NPR tweeted: “Hello Hollywood I’m Syrian and a journalist and would love to become a movie star, so would many other Syrians, also ‘UN journalists’ aren’t a thing. Hire us!”

Others weren't pleased with Munn’s casting, and have taken to social media to express their discontent.

“The onslaught on Aleppo was one of the most traumatic events for Syrians in Syria and for the diaspora,” wrote one user on Twitter following the news. “Spinning the tragedy to center it around some hypothetical journalist for a Westerner to star in is disgusting,” they added.

Another user wrote: “Oh yay a ‘Syrian refugee drama’ that is actually about a white lady. Just what we need, another white savior movie.”

“Just call it ‘The White Savior,’ why muck about?” added another.

“Aleppo,” which is currently in pre-production in Los Angeles, will be directed by Brazilian filmmaker David Schurman.

The casting of the Syrian starring character has yet to be announced.

Since the start of the Syrian war in 2011, many films and documentaries have been made about the tragedy, including “For Sama,” Waad Al-Kateab’s critically-acclaimed documentary.


Hezbollah, Amal loyalists attack journalists covering fire

Updated 26 November 2020

Hezbollah, Amal loyalists attack journalists covering fire

  • Sawt Beirut International founder says they will not be deterred from carrying out their work
  • Sawt Beirut International journalists were beaten as they attempted to flee down the stairs, Arab News was told, until they reached the street, where the Lebanese army interfered

LONDON: Sawt Beirut International reporter Rabih Chantaf and cameraman Mahmoud Al-Sayyed were attacked and harassed by Hezbollah and Amal party loyalists on Tuesday while covering a fire in Beirut.

“Sawt Beirut International will be taking additional steps in the coming period to confirm that it will not give up in the face of this terrorist attack carried out by Hezbollah,” Sawt Beirut International founder Jerry Maher told Arab News.

“We are convinced that Hezbollah gave the order to the groups that attacked our crew and this operation was organised.”

In a video depicting the incident, Chantaf is seen reporting from the 11th floor apartment in the Zouqaq Al-Blat district in Beirut where the fire occurred.

A group of firemen can be seen attending to the damage and, soon after, plain-clothed men approached the reporter and cameraman ordering them to stop filming. Voices were later heard struggling until the filming abruptly ended.

Chantaf and Al-Sayyed were beaten as they attempted to flee down the stairs, Arab News was told, until they reached the street, where the Lebanese army interfered.

“One of those terrorists even warned a soldier telling him ‘move away or we will shoot you.’ There was a very high level of incitement,” Maher, who is also the media adviser to Bahaa Hariri, the brother of Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri.

“This incident pushes us to carry on with this confrontation. We will not back down, we will not give up and we will not allow this corrupt system and those who protect it using illegitimate weapons, namely Hezbollah, to endanger the future of Lebanon and of the Lebanese people through such acts that undermine the security of the Lebanese people,” Maher said.

In a tweet Bahaa later condemning “the cowardly attack on the Sawt Beirut International team in Beirut by supporters of a duo who do not believe in freedom of the press.”

The duo refers to Hezbollah and Amal, the predominantly Shia political parties in the country.

This is not the first time Hezbollah and its allies have harassed journalists in Lebanon. Last month, journalist Luna Safwan was a victim of an online abuse campaign after a tweet she posted criticizing Hezbollah was carried by an Israeli news channel and she was accused of cooperating with Israel.

Lebanon is currently witnessing several crises. Even before the August port explosion that left at least 200 dead, the country was facing an unprecedented economic and financial slump, which the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated.

Saad Hariri was asked to form a government after his predecessor PM Hassan Diab resigned following the explosions, and prime minister-designate Mustapha Adib gave up after struggling to form a cabinet on his terms.