Over the weekend, a Twitter spat blew up into a full blown controversy when New Zealander Jason Lei Howden blew up his own movie with a bizarre series of tweets.
The trailer for Guns Akimbo makes it look like a fun romp, the sort of film your flatmate who keeps all the bowls in his bedroom watches a million times on your Netflix account. Daniel Radcliffe has guns taped to his hands! Newly minted scream queen Samara Weaving rides a motorcycle and shoots things up! Rhys Darby does that thing he does. It's also directed by a New Zealand director, Jason Lei Howden.
Then over the weekend, as seems to happen every weekend, something bad happened on Twitter. Only this time, it sparked a boycott of his film.
So who is this New Zealand director?
Jason Lei Howden is a director who is most noted for horror comedy film Deathgasm, which was the winner of the Make My Movie competition in 2013, receiving $200,000 in winnings as a result. Guns Akimbo is his second feature, starring Daniel Radcliffe and filmed in Auckland in 2018. It has received the support of the NZ Film Commission.
So what happened on Twitter?
Last Thursday, February 20, screenshots of Dilara Elbir, a film writer and editor-in-chief of the film blog Much Ado About Cinema (which has now been made private), using the N-word in a private group chat were posted on Twitter. As a result, several of Elbir's coworkers at the blog quit. Things very quickly escalated, and after an afternoon of back-and-forth, Elbir tweeted an apology video that implied a suicide attempt. The video was later taken down, Elbir's safety assured by friends, and Elbir subsequently deleted all of her social media.
And what, exactly, does that have to do with Howden?
The day after Elbir's tweet was leaked, Jason Lei Howden tweeted a thread lashing out against her critics. He tweeted a list of Much Ado's former staff, calling them "woke cyberbullies", ironically opening them up to bullying as a result. He defended Elbir's use of the slur as an "obviously ironic joke" in a private DM that was subsequently tweeted out by the recipient. Howden has since deleted the tweets, and his personal account.
Valerie Complex, a film critic who is prominent in certain Twitter circles, then shared screenshots of Howden's tweets. The controversy escalated when a writer with the name DarkSkyLady blogged about Howden, using his actions as another example of white people preemptively forgiving racial abuse against black people.
So what happened next?
Howden then, for reasons known only to him, screenshotted Complex and DarkSkyLady’s Twitter accounts, and posted those screenshots from both his personal account and the Guns Akimbo Twitter account. Specifically, from the Guns Akimbo account, he called DarkSkyLady’s essay a "troll article from someone who cyberbullied a woman until she attempted suicide". Notably, neither woman had anything to do with the original Twitter controversy, until Howden involved himself. The Guns Akimbo Twitter account has, as of this writing, 472 followers.
The filmmaker later apologised, retracting some of his previous statement: "I don't support Diara's DM. Racism is not acceptable in any context. I respect @DarkSkyLady and @ValerieComplex's work but not bullying. My mother committed suicide after a length period of being bullied, which I didn't know about until it was too late. To see others doing the same is incredibly painful and unnecessary."
DarkSkyLady has not responded to the apology, while Complex has rejected it, calling it a non-apology. All tweets regarding the controversy have been deleted from the Guns Akimbo Twitter account, and Howden has deleted his own Twitter.
So what’s happening to Guns Akimbo?
Nothing good! But also: Nothing necessarily film-destroying.
One commentator, Ebert.com writer Robert Daniels, requested that his pull-quote not be used to promote the film, in an excellent piece which covers the events over the weekend. Saban Films, the film’s distributor overseas, has indicated they still intend to release the film, while declaring Howden’s online behaviour as “upsetting and disturbing”.
A spokesperson for Madman, the film’s local distributor, commented thusly:
“The recent online behaviour of Jason Lei Howden was unacceptable, and Madman do not agree with or condone his views and actions. We will be releasing Guns Akimbo on March 5th in New Zealand to honour and support the hard work of hundreds of individuals behind the production.”
So, you can still watch Guns Akimbo in selected cinemas from March 5.
Where to find help and support:
- Shine (domestic violence) - 0508 744 633
- Women's Refuge - 0800 733 843 (0800 REFUGE)
- Need to Talk? - Call or text 1737
- What's Up - 0800 WHATS UP (0800 942 8787)
- Lifeline - 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland
- Youthline - 0800 376 633, text 234, email firstname.lastname@example.org or online chat
- Samaritans - 0800 726 666
- Depression Helpline - 0800 111 757
- Suicide Crisis Helpline - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
- Shakti Community Council - 0800 742 584