Pulse survivors outraged over Univision news special re-enacting massacre

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PHOTO BY JEREMY REPER
  • Photo by Jeremy Reper
Survivors of the shooting at the gay nightclub Pulse are speaking out against a Univision news special set to air Saturday that re-enacts the June 12 massacre where 49 people lost their lives and countless others were injured.

Victor Báez Febo says he was scrolling through his timeline Thursday morning when he clicked on promotional videos for the news special on Crónicas de Sábado, which translates to Saturday Chronicles. The videos show a gory depiction of the massacre, including scenes where the actor playing Pulse gunman Omar Mateen shoots people on the floor and bleeding actors are shown trapped in the bathroom. After seeing the video, Báez Febo, who survived the shooting, broke down.

"One of the parts that hit me was when they filmed the bathroom scene and everybody is just pretty much piled on top of each other covered in blood," he says. "That hits home. Two of my closest friends died in the bathroom in that scenario. I knew because I heard but the video gave me a complete visual. I couldn't get my friends' faces out of my head when I was seeing it. It really is traumatizing. It does not promote healing. If anything, it's poking at an open wound."

The promotional videos for the special called "Baño de Sangre," or "Blood Bath," have since been taken down. Báez Febo says some of the friends who survived the shooting and were interviewed for the show did not know about the re-enactment. He adds that he grew up watching the Spanish-language channel and he expected something better from them.

"People of such magnitude should know better and use it to promote healing and honor the victims not turn it into something that pushed their ratings up," he says. "My friends who were murdered, they had a life, people they left behind. We want the world to know how great they were and not make every memory about that night."

Deborah Whiteley, who lost three friends at Pulse, says she created a petition with a friend to boycott the show. She calls it a slap in the face to survivors, family members and people in the community who saw the video and were brought back to that night.

"Why would they do this?" she says. "It was so graphic. It was disrespectful. Showing the inside what actually happened was very disturbing."

Crónicas De Sábado has since posted statements on social media saying, "Univision has set out to create a report that is deeply respectful of the many people whose lives were impacted by this tragedy, and, at the same time, is faithful to the facts underlying this horrible crime."

Members of the local LGBTQ community have expressed their disappointment at Univision online. Barbara Poma, owner of Pulse, also took to social media to express her outrage at the show.

"Shame on you and shame on Univision!" she writes on Facebook. "The lack of respect and humanity for these grieving families and traumatized survivors is incomprehensible. Do not air this show! You are re-traumatizing people. It is too soon. This is irresponsible of you."

Orlando Weekly has reached out to Univision for more information and will update this post when we hear back.

UPDATE 2:10 p.m.: The Orlando Sentinel reports that despite protests, Univision will not be altering its news special “Baño De Sangre” on the show Crónicas de Sábado. Jose Zamora, a representative for Univision, says the program is "a journalistic project," and the promos that Pulse survivors and victims’ family members saw don’t represent the entire program.

Heal Orlando, an organization made up of local LGBTQ organizations and allies, sent a letter on Friday afternoon to Isaac Lee, chief content officer for Univision, asking him to cancel any airing of "Baño De Sangre" and refrain from releasing additional content from the show. The letter says:
"This is our community. We know Orlando and the spirit of Pulse - long before and after the tragedy - better than anyone. We are also fiercely protective when outsiders attempt to tell 'our story' in a manner that does not honor the memory of those taken, those who survived, those directly affected, or the resilience of our unified city.

We also understand that the world was impacted by the tragedy and that many have been rooting for us, ever since. Many documentary-style productions, when created collaboratively, have helped to share the stories of loss, heroism, and healing. Those who participated in these interviews, did so trusting that the professionals - on the other side of the camera - would use the footage ethically to promote good, rather than evil.

Univision has crossed the line and broken that trust. Exploiting this tragedy, in any way, is inhumane and shows an extraordinary lack of responsibility. While we would prefer not to waste time and energy debating the intent of Univision during the creation of this gruesome and distasteful program, we ask that you now uphold basic moral standards of human decency and not release it.

Our community is strong; however, we are also still extremely vulnerable. Those that were in Pulse nightclub that night, and even many who were not, are haunted by memories of the horror that unfolded. Exposing us to reenactments of this tragedy can cause severe psychological damage and re-traumatize those struggling to move forward.

You have the opportunity to stand with us. We have faith that you will do the right thing. On behalf of a united community, thank you for honoring our wishes and helping us continue to heal." 

UPDATE 1:20 p.m.: GLAAD, the leading LGBTQ media advocacy organization, is urging Univision not to air the news special. In a statement, GLAAD says:

"GLAAD strongly urges Univision not to air the upcoming segment of Crónicas de Sábado on the Pulse Nightclub shooting which includes a re-enactment and the sensationalist title “Baño de Sangre” ("Blood Bath"). This show's promotional videos alone have upset many – airing far too soon after the deadliest mass shooting in American history, which targeted the Latinx LGBTQ community. While GLAAD has not seen the segment in its entirety, if the ad is any indication, this could be a traumatic experience for many who are trying to heal from this tragedy."

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