Saudi Arabia to screen Prophet Muhammad film, four decades after ban

Saudi Arabia to screen Prophet Muhammad film, four decades after ban
The decades-old film was initially banned in most of the region but will now become the first Arabic title to screen in Saudi Arabia since 1983.
2 min read
12 June, 2018
Saudis gathering at a cinema at Riyadh Park Mall [Getty]
Saudi Arabia will on Thursday screen "The Message" - a four-decade-old film about the Prophet Muhammad that was initially banned in most Arab states - as the first Arabic title after the kingdom ended its 35 year ban on cinemas last year. 

The film, which was released in 1976, was directed by Syrian-American Moustafa Akkad and was initially backed by Saudi authorities before they turned against the project. 

Its English version - starring Anthony Quinn and Irene Papas - was nominated for a best music Oscar. Its Arabic version featured top actors from the region, including Egypt's Abdullah Gheith and Syria's Mouna Wasef. 

Akkad died in 2005 during the Amman hotel bombings that claimed dozens of lives. 

His son told AFP that "[k]nowing that there were so many difficulties... , now that they're showing it in the theatres I couldn't be happier".

The 1976 film has been widely-watched in the Arab world despite its initial ban. 

"It caused a lot of controversy and there were a lot of obstacles put in its way," said Malik Moustafa Akkad, noting it remains banned in Kuwait.

Saudi Arabia lifted a longstanding ban on cinemas last year, part of an easing of social restrictions pushed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Saudi theatres will now screen a restored version of the 1976 epic, produced from the film's original negatives. 

The late director "always intended it to be a big-screen event. And that's the way to see it", Akkad's son added. "Even if you've seen the film, you've never seen it look this good," he said.

Profits from the screenings will support a scholarship fund for filmmakers from the region to study at the late filmmaker's alma mater, the University of Southern California. 

Its screening date coincides with Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

To date, Saudi Arabia has screened English titles such as "Black Panther" and "Isle of Dogs" since reversing the decades old cinema ban.

Agencies contributed to this report. 

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