Director Jason Lei Howden incensed a social-media controversy over the weekend, which may end up affecting the release of his new action-comedy film, Guns Akimbo. Howden joined in on a Twitter discussion about the film criticism blog Much Ado About Cinema, which has since shut down, going so far as to use the Guns Akimbo official Twitter account for harassment.
The controversy began separate from Howden on Thursday, February 20: screenshots of Dilara Elbir, a non-black film writer and editor-in-chief of Much Ado About Cinema, using the N-word in a private group chat emerged. Several of Elbir’s collaborators at Much Ado quit and expressed their dismay about the word’s usage. Over the next few hours, the blog’s writers, readers, and members of the film Twitter community, including Elbir, went back and forth about the controversy. That night, Elbir tweeted an apology video that also indicated a suicide attempt. (The video was subsequently removed from Twitter.) Elbir’s friends were able to contact local authorities and report back that Elbir is safe and in the hospital. She is not currently on social media.
Film Twitter began to decry the bullying that contributed to Elbir’s distress, and many attempted to distinguish legitimate criticisms of Elbir’s wrongdoings from pile-on harassment perpetuated within stan culture. Jason Lei Howden did not do that. On Friday, he wrote a thread calling Elbir’s critics “woke cyberbullies,” tweeted out a list of Much Ado’s former staff in order to open them up to bullying, and defended Elbir’s use of the slur. “The PRIVATE DM that was maliciously leaked was obviously an ironic joke,” he wrote in a since-deleted tweet. “Can’t believe anyone would think she was being serious.” Valerie Complex, a writer prominent on Twitter, shared screenshots of his harmful tweets, defending the writers’ privacy.
In light of the events that had now embroiled Film Twitter for days, a writer who goes by DarkSkyLady blogged about Howden and other white/non-black people of color forgiving racial abuse toward black people. Howden then targeted Complex and DarkSkyLady specifically, sending them harassment from both his personal Twitter account and the Guns Akimbo account. “These toxic, disgusting ‘film writers’ bullied Dilara Elbir from Much Ado About Cinema until she attempted suicide,” he tweeted with screenshots of Complex and DarkSkyLady’s Twitter accounts. However, as The Mary Sue confirmed, neither person had anything to do with this situation before Jason Howden involved himself. From the Guns Akimbo account, Howden called DarkSkyLady’s essay a “troll article from someone who cyberbullied a woman until she attempted suicide.” The tweets have since been deleted.
At midnight on February 24, Howden apologized across two tweets, retracting some of his previous statements. “Just to set the record straight, my posts were only meant to be about bullying,” he wrote. “I don’t support Diara’s DM. Racism is not acceptable in any context. I respect @MyDarkSkyLady and @ValerieComplex’s work but not bullying. My mother committed suicide after a lengthy 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 had previously responded with a Medium essay and has not yet responded to his apology tweets. Complex spoke out Monday morning. “I am truly sorry about his mother, but damage is done,” she wrote. “I don’t accept this non apology. Slanderous lies that went on for 72 hrs. Attacking who ever had something to up until yesterday evening. Take time away from twitter to mourn. And Leave us be.”
As a result of his harassment, several film podcasts, blogs, and moviegoers on Twitter have decided to boycott Guns Akimbo, which stars Daniel Radcliffe and comes out on February 28. The Good Place actress and activist Jameela Jamil also boosted support for Complex and DarkSkyLady with a quote-tweet. Erik Anderson of AwardsWatch, one of the platforms boycotting Guns Akimbo, noted that the movie has been removed from Box Office Mojo’s release calendar and Saban Films is no longer listed as its distributor. Saban did not immediately respond to a request for comment and there has been no official announcement regarding the film’s release this Friday.
Update: Saban Films has issued the following statement regarding the release of Guns Akimbo, which will stay on track for release: “We are releasing Guns Akimbo this Friday, February 28th. While we do not condone, agree or share Mr. Howden’s online behavior, which is upsetting and disturbing, we are supportive of the film and all the hard work and dedication that has gone into making Guns Akimbo.”