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US actor Olivia Munn criticised for role in new Syrian refugee drama

Announcement draws ire online over a story to be centred on a 'UN journalist' in Syria rather than on Syrians themselves
The new drama has received a lot of backlash online (AFP)

American actress and former television host Olivia Munn has come under fire after it was announced that she is set to play the lead role of a UN journalist in a new drama about Syrian refugees.

The drama, titled Aleppo, is to be directed by Brazilian filmmaker David Schurmann and follows the story of a young Syrian refugee boy and a UN journalist, who try to escape Syria in order to survive. 

Online, many have voiced their concerns about the feature over the apparent lack of Syrian or Middle Eastern actors in the drama.

Some have also criticised the drama over it's focus on the UN journalist role, casting the story of the Syrian boy as a side role. 

"The onslaught on Aleppo was one of the most traumatic events for Syrians in Syria and for the diaspora. Spinning the tragedy to center it around some hypothetical journalist for a westerner to star in is disgusting," wrote one social media user.

Munn, whose work includes roles in the X-Men and Predator series, tweeted to say that she is excited to be part of the film, and that it was one of the "most captivating, heartbreaking scripts" she has read. 

However, a number of journalists have also criticised the actor over her role as a UN journalist, stating that conflating the role of journalists and UN workers can be dangerous. 

One social media user advised people to avoid watching the new drama and instead suggested learning about the war in Syria by watching For Sama, by Waad al-Kateab. 

For Sama tells the story of  Kateab, a 26-year-old Syrian filmmaker, as she falls in love, then gives birth to her daughter, Sama, all while documenting a revolution where death and destruction ravage her hometown of Aleppo. 

Kateab was named in Time magazine's 100 most influential people of 2020 after the film won four British Independent Film Awards, as well as the top documentary prize at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival. It was also nominated for an Oscar. 

Many have responded to the announcement asking directors to make a film about Syria that casts Syrians, citing that there are too many "white saviour" movies that exist. 

Schurmann defended the concept of the movie in a comment on Munn's post on Instagram, urging people not to jump to conclusions and wait until the movie is out to judge its content.

"What most people have not read or ignored, is the fact that the story is also about a young Syrian boy and his journey. I assure you that this touching story is not about whitewashing."

It was not immediately clear if the cast would include Syrian actors.

Since the start of the war in Syria in 2011, a number of films and documentaries have been made. The Cave, which was also nominated for best documentary in the Oscars, focuses on life at a hospital in Eastern Ghouta.

Earlier this year, Feras Fayyad, the director of The Cave, told Middle East Eye that he feels like he has an obligation towards his fellow countrymen in portraying what happened in Syria. 

"I'm no longer able to carry the wounded and bury the dead. I'm no longer able to carry arms and defend the place my family resides in. 

"The only thing I can do now is expose the truth, to show what's happening in Syria to the biggest audience there is."

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.