First Arabic Netflix film tackles taboos, sparks controversy

1/29/2022 9:17:00 AM

First Arabic Netflix film tackles taboos, sparks controversy

First Arabic Netflix film tackles taboos, sparks controversy

The first Arabic Netflix film has sparked controversy in Egypt and beyond

Read more: The Independent »

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It tells the story of seven friends at a dinner party gone wrong after the hostess suggests that, as a game, they agree to share any calls, text and voice messages. As smart phones buzz, secrets are revealed, infidelities are exposed and relationships are tested. “A good plan will help a local authority deliver effective actions, while having it easily available on the council website will enable local residents to know what their council has committed to and so hold the council to account. The controversy has re-ignited debates in the region over artistic freedom versus social and religious sensitivities; censorship; what constitutes a taboo in different societies and portrayal of gay characters. Thank us later. One irony is that Netflix in the Middle East shows many non-Arabic movies and series that feature gay characters in a positive light, premarital and extramarital sex and even nudity — which is typically banned in cinemas in the region — with little outcry. But to see those themes broached in an Arabic-language movie with Arab actors went too far for some.

(The movie has no nudity; it’s largely an hour and half of people talking around a dinner table. When he’s suspended, he goes back to his hometown in Dallas to coach his son’s team and what ensues is father-son bonding and a classic underdog story.) “I think if it’s a normal foreign movie, I will be ok. But because it’s an Arabic movie, I didn’t accept it,” said 37-year-old Elham, an Egyptian who asked for her last name to be withheld due to the sensitivity of the topic. “We don’t accept the idea of homosexuality or intimate relations before marriage in our society, so what happened was a cultural shock. This spy thriller follows one American single mother who is seen as desperately uncool to her daughter but is actually hiding a whole covert past of her own.” Homosexuality is a particularly strong taboo in Egypt: A 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center found that 95% in the country say it should be rejected by society; in Lebanon, that number stood at 80% at the time.

The movie’s cast are mostly prominent Lebanese stars and its events are set in Lebanon. There, it has garnered many positive reviews. TV: Behind The Scenes With Jane Campion, released Thursday 27 January If you loved. Fans said it discussed relatable topics away from stereotypes that are usually attached to gay characters or cheating spouses on screen. “There’s nothing like the Arab world’s hatred of the truth,” Rabih Farran, a Lebanese journalist, said in a tweet, referring to the backlash. It’s not the first time that an Arabic-language movie has featured gay characters.

Most famously, the 2006 movie “The Yacoubian Building” with a cast of A-list Egyptian actors caused a stir for, among other things, including a gay main character. But the character was ultimately killed by his lover in what many saw as punishment. In contrast, the gay character in “Ashab Wala A’azz” is not depicted negatively. Another character encourages him to expose his former employers who let him go for his sexual identity. Fatima Kamal, a 43-year-old Egyptian, said she didn’t find it to be promoting same-sex relationships.

She argued that some Egyptian movies in the past were more daring. “The movie touched on issues that the society refuses to confront but they do happen,” she said. “We all have a dark side and hidden stories.” Kamal, who has a 12-year-old son, also dismissed the idea the film would corrupt Arab youth. “ Technology has changed society.

Restricting movies is not the answer,” she said. “The solution is to watch based on age ratings and to talk to the young and make them understand that not everything we see on the screen is OK.” Talking on a popular TV show, Egyptian lawmaker Mostafa Bakry contended Egyptian and Arab family values are being targeted. “This is neither art nor creativity,” he said. “We must ban Netflix from being in Egypt” even if temporarily.

Magda Maurice, an art critic debating Bakry on the show, disagreed. “This movie exposes what mobile phones do to people and to their normal lives,” she said. “You cannot ban anything now but you can confront it with good art,” she added. “Banning has become a thing of the past.” In Egypt, much of the furor focused on the sole Egyptian woman in the cast, Mona Zaki, one of the country’s biggest stars.

Her character is the one seen slipping off her underwear, a gesture that many critics decried as scandalous. In social media, some attacked her for participating in the film. The online abuse extended to actors and actresses who supported her or praised her performance. Some criticized her real-life husband, an Egyptian movie star in his own right, for “allowing” her to play the role. The Egyptian actors syndicate came out in support of Zaki, saying it will not abide verbal abuse or intimidation against actors over their work.

It said that freedom of creativity “is protected and defended by the syndicate,” while adding that it is committed to the values of Egyptian society. The Associated Press reached out to Netflix for a comment on the controversy but didn’t receive one. Egypt has long celebrated its cinema industry, which earned it the nickname “Hollywood of the East,” lured actors from other Arabic-speaking countries and brought Egyptian movies and dialect into Arab homes the world over. Film critic Khaled Mahmoud said Egypt"used to produce powerful and daring movies in the 1960s and 1970s.” But much of that adventurousness has been lost with the trend of so-called “clean cinema,” emphasizing themes deemed family appropriate with no physical intimacy or immodest attire, he added.

“Society has changed, and the viewership culture has become flawed." Story lines about affairs or sexual relations are not uncommon in Arabic films. But female stars are commonly grilled in interviews over whether they would agree to wear swimsuits or kiss co-stars on camera. “Our job is to let art be art,” Mahmoud said. “We cannot critique art through a moral lens.

” ___ Associated Press writer Zeina Karam in Beirut contributed to this report. Recommended .