Movie Reviews

Published on April 21st, 2017 | by Don Guillory


The Promise

Roughly a year ago, I found myself in a heated exchange with a friend about full and appropriate representation of people and history in films. I discussed the merits of expanding the scope beyond films about slavery and segregation with respect to African-Americans and stories of despair for other marginalized groups. It is, for me, demeaning to a people’s contributions in society and trivializes experiences. After engaging in what seemed to be an hour, my friend focused more on what she had to say that considering what I was addressing. It proved true when she stated “Well… at least black people have movies about slavery! You should be happy. We don’t even have a movie about the Armenian Genocide!” I was shocked, momentarily. I had never stated that one group deserved more of the spotlight or one’s history is more important that another, just that we need to have appropriate representation and inclusion of stories. All of our stories should be told and shared, especially the ones that are not widely known, understood, or even having a place within social studies courses in our public schools.

I knew of the Armenian Genocide and had a general understanding about the atrocities committed by the Ottoman Empire. There are several international films that address what took place or have the Genocide as part of the story. Even My Big Fat Greek Wedding makes reference to how Greeks were brutalized by the Turks during the period. What we were missing, at least in the realm of American Cinema, was a representation for US audiences to witness the horrors that these people fell victim to and, for some, were able to survive. In The Promise, audiences will get a history lesson about man’s inhumanity to man.

When I first heard that this film was in production, I was interesting in how it would pan out. Would it be truthful, as painful as it may be? Would they overdo certain aspects? How much would they play with the truth? The filmmakers faced the same problems as those who brought forth Schindler’s List, The Pianist, and Life is Beautiful: How do you approach telling the story of genocide? How do you draw people in to a story that they may not be familiar with? Are people ready?

Summaries of the film that I read online made it seem as though this would be an Armenian version of Pearl Harbor in that this was a love story in the foreground of a film that features violence in the background. The summaries were misleading, maybe by design or maybe by mistake. The Promise, stars Oscar Isaac (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) as a young Armenia medical student, and Christian Bale (The Dark Knight) as a journalist for the associated press reporting on developments in the Ottoman Empire as war breaks out. The film whose description touts a love triangle in the midst of the Great War is far from what this films discusses and presents. There is a love story, however, it is not what the film is about or what is able to get the attention of the viewers.

The film reveals the deep held animosity of Armenians and other minority groups in the Ottoman Empire. It demonstrates the depth of mistrust and mistreatment of people who cast as “the other.” It is not simplistic in approach nor relying on over-the-top examples of violence in order for those watching to feel something. The development of events and characters permits the audience to connect with each of the characters, their families, their circumstances, and look for any moment in which they can escape the violence that is being committed to them. In no way does this film minimize what the victims went through. It doesn’t trivialize their experience in order to gain one’s attention.


The Promise satisfies the need for a discussion to emerge allowing for a truer examination of the genocide’s place in world history and within the framing of World War I. It presents a more representative picture of what people bore witness to or experienced themselves. With history, we are continuously searching for the truth and ensuring that history itself does not remained buried or ignored. This films serves the purpose in ensuring that more people are aware of not only the Armenian genocide, but all of the moving pieces that come with people fighting against an injustice or violence that is committed upon them because they are seen as less than or undesirable. It is my hope that with this film, studios see the necessity of bringing more stories of struggle, survival, and the will of humanity to overcome hardship and violence to audiences. The Promise although highly overdue, is essential, poignant, timely, and necessary in order for all of us to see that people are not forgotten.





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