Netflix: The first Arab movie to raise controversy

Netflix: The first Arab movie to raise controversy

Paris, 2022-01-29 08:40:46. Netflix: The first Arab movie to raise controversy

CAIRO – A Lebanese father tells his teenage daughter that she is free to choose whether to have sex with her boyfriend despite his reservations.

An Egyptian wife slips her black lace panties under her clothes before heading out to dinner, and it’s not her husband who is trying to stir up discord.

And in a dramatic moment, a man reveals that he’s gay, a secret he kept from his shocked old friends – but who seem to accept it mostly.

The scenes in the first Arabic movie on Netflix provoked a public drama as intense as the one on screen. On social media, TV talk shows and among friends in Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries, a torrent of critics denounced the film as a threat to family and religious values, encouraged homosexuality and was inappropriate for Arab societies.

Others rallied to defend the film, saying that critics deny what happens behind closed doors in real life. They argue that those who dislike the movie are free to opt out of Netflix or simply skip the movie.

The film, titled “Ashab Wala A’azz”, which means “No Dearer Friends”, is an Arabic version of the blockbuster Italian movie “Perfect Strangers”, which has inspired several internationally re-released films. It tells the story of seven friends at a dinner party who make mistakes after the hostess suggests that they, as a game, agree to share any calls, text and voice messages. As smartphones buzz, secrets are revealed, betrayals are revealed, and relationships are tested.

The controversy has reignited a debate in the region over artistic freedom versus social and religious sensitivities. Censorship of what constitutes taboo in different societies and portrayal of homosexual characters.

Ironically, in the Middle East, Netflix shows many non-Arabic films and series that present gay characters in a positive light, premarital and extramarital sex and even nudity – something usually forbidden in cinemas in the region – with little protest.

But seeing these themes presented in an Arabic-language film with Arab actors has gone too far for some. (The movie contains no nudity; it’s pretty much an hour and a half of people talking around the dinner table.)

“I think if it was a normal foreign movie, I’d be fine. But because it’s an Arab movie, I didn’t accept it,” said Elham, 37, an Egyptian who asked that her last name be withheld because of this. case sensitive. “We don’t accept the idea of ​​homosexuality or intimate relationships before marriage in our society, so what happened was a culture shock.”

Homosexuality is a particularly strong taboo in Egypt: a 2013 Pew Research Center survey found that 95% in the country say it should be rejected by society; In Lebanon, that number was 80% at the time.

Most of the film’s crew are prominent Lebanese stars, and its events take place in Lebanon. There, he received many positive reviews. Fans said she discussed topics related to the stereotypes usually associated with gay characters or cheating couples on screen.

“Nothing compares to the Arab world’s hatred of the truth,” Rabih Farran, a Lebanese journalist, said in a tweet on Twitter, referring to the backlash.

This is not the first time an Arabic-language film has featured gay characters.

The most famous of these is the 2006 film “The Yacoubian Building” with a group of first-class Egyptian actors, which caused a stir, among others, including the main gay character. But the character was eventually killed by his mistress in what many saw as punishment.

In contrast, the gay character in “Ashab Wala A’azz” was not portrayed negatively. Another character encourages him to expose his former employers who let him go for his gender identity.

Fatma Kamal, a 43-year-old Egyptian, said she did not find promoting same-sex relationships. She said that some Egyptian films in the past were more daring.

“The film touched on issues that 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 that the film would spoil Arab youth. “Technology has changed society,” she said. “Restricting films is not the answer.” “The solution is to watch based on age ratings and talk to young people and make them understand that not everything we see on screen is right.”

Speaking on a popular TV program, Egyptian MP Mostafa Bakri confirmed that the values ​​of the Egyptian and Arab family are being targeted.

“This is neither art nor creativity,” he said. “We must ban Netflix from being in Egypt,” even if temporarily.

Magda Morris, the art critic who discusses Bakri in the show, did not agree. “This movie reveals what cell phones do to people and their normal lives,” she said.

“You can’t ban anything now but you can counter it with good art,” she added. “Prohibitions have become a thing of the past.”

In Egypt, much of the anger has focused on the only Egyptian woman in the cast, Mona Zaki, one of Egypt’s biggest stars. Her character is seen slipping out of her underwear, a gesture that has been criticized by many critics as scandalous.

In social media, some attacked her for her participation in the film. Online abuse extended to the 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 that it would not commit to verbal abuse or intimidation against actors because of their work. She said that freedom of creativity is “preserved and defended by the union,” adding that she is committed to the values ​​of Egyptian society.

The Associated Press reached out to Netflix for comment on the controversy but received no comment.

Egypt has long been celebrated with the film industry, which has earned it the nickname “Hollywood of the East,” attracting actors from other Arabic-speaking countries and bringing films and the Egyptian dialect to Arab homes around the world.

Film critic Khaled Mahmoud said that Egypt “was producing strong and bold films in the sixties and seventies.” But he added that much of that adventure was lost with the trend called “clean cinema,” focusing on topics deemed family-friendly without any physical intimacy or immodest clothing.

“Society has changed and the viewing culture has become flawed.”

Story lines about sexual relations or sexual relations are not uncommon in Arabic films. But female stars are often questioned in interviews about whether they agree to wear a swimsuit or kiss their co-stars on camera.

“Our mission is to make art art,” Mahmoud said. “We cannot criticize art through a moral lens.”

Writer Zina Karam for the Associated Press in Beirut contributed to this report. The Associated Press’s religious coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through The Conversation US. AP is solely responsible for this content.

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