“To ensure the safety of our teams and customers. » This is the reason put forward on Tuesday June 7 by the British cinema chain Cineworld to justify its decision to deprogram the film The Lady of Paradise (The Lady of Heaven) throughout the UK. Since the release of the film in theaters, Friday, June 3, demonstrations have indeed multiplied in front of several cinemas of the group, from Leeds to Birmingham via Sheffield.
This feature film of more than two hours centered on Fatima Zahra, daughter of the prophet of Islam and wife of Ali, the first Shiite imam, has been described as “blasphemous” by the several hundred demonstrators, mostly Sunni Muslims. “Disrespectful” and “racist”also blasted an online petition signed by more than 119,000 people calling for the film to be removed.
If it does not seem to have generated violence at this stage, the challenge will in any case have been right about the programming by Cineworld of this British film directed by Eli King. Rival cinema chain Vue, which was planning screenings in London and the south east of the country, could go the same way. The group will only release the film once independent body BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) has it “assessed and rated”assured a spokesperson.
“Dangerous for freedom of expression”
Asked by the daily The Guardianthe film’s executive producer Malik Shlibak said cinemas should “defend their right to show films that people want to see” rather than give in ” pressure “. That the film arouses contrasting positions seemed to him “normal and healthy” ; on the other hand, he condemned the “censorship” of demonstrators wishing to “dictating what we can or cannot watch in UK cinemas”.
An indignation shared by certain political figures of the country. Claire Fox, who has served in the House of Lords since 2020 after serving as a Brexit party MEP, has denounced a decision “disastrous for the arts” and “dangerous for freedom of expression” : “A lesson for those who claim that identity politics are not a threat to democracy. »
A parallel with Daesh
What is blamed on The Lady of Paradise ? Among other things, the fact of showing the prophet of Islam on the screen. In his May 30 review of the film, The Guardianmentioned, however, an initial warning message, in which the director explained that he had “computer generated” all character faces “saints” depicted in the film. Faces of the remainder dazzled, during their appearances, by rays of sun.
But it is above all on theological aspects that the feature film seems to have tensed. In a harsh review published in December, when the film’s trailer had already been viewed more than 3 million times, the Muslim site 5pillars denounced a pro-Shiite bias likely to generate “tension” with the Sunnis. The author of the article, himself a Sunni Muslim, notably denounced the parallels between “the extremism and bloodlust of the Islamic State and the companions of the Prophet”, the action taking place between Iraq in 2014 and Arabia in the 7th century.
If the expression “Lady of paradise” does indeed refer to Fatima, the daughter of the prophet of Islam, it is on her husband Ali that the plot mainly focuses, according to The Guardian. And more broadly on the succession struggle which saw Abu Bakr succeed Mohammed after his death in 632. However, the family tie which united, through Fatima, the Prophet to his son-in-law Ali made the latter more legitimate to become the first caliph, according to the Shiites.
This British film takes up, it seems, this thesis, describing Abu Bakr as a tyrant who only comes to power through violence and cunning. His successors Omar and Otman were also subjected to harsh treatment, as was the prophet’s widow, Aisha, who opposed Ali’s accession to power as the fourth caliph in 656. “misleading” to relate these events, support the film’s Sunni critics, criticizing in passing the ” racism ” which consists in having played all these characters “intriguing” by black actors.
The screenplay was written by Yasser Al Habib, a Shia of Kuwaiti descent residing in the UK. In 2003, he was arrested in Kuwait for criticizing Abu Bakr, Omar and Aisha, before being stripped of Kuwaiti nationality in 2010. His film was banned in Iran, Egypt and Pakistan, where it was called of “sacrilege”.