Conflict about the Film: The Lady of Heaven


Conflict about the Film: The Lady of Heaven

The film — about the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad — sparked headlines in the U.K. after it was pulled from cinemas following several protests by Muslim groups.

An under-the-radar historical feature became headline news in the U.K. this week after it was pulled from two major cinemas chains. Cineworld, followed by Showcase, canceled all screenings of The Lady of Heaven after protests by Muslim groups took place outside cinemas in several British cities. In a statement, Cineworld said that its decision was made to “ensure the safety of our staff and customers.”

Written by Islamic scholar and cleric Sheikh Al-Habib, and from first-time feature director Eli King, The Lady of Heaven — which already had a five-week theatrical run in the U.S. without any upset — looks to tell the story of the Prophet Muhammad’s daughter, Lady Fatima, shifting the drama from contemporary war-torn Iraq to the 7th century.

Protestors accused the film of “blasphemy,” claiming that it inaccurately and negatively depicts some of Islam’s most important figures, while an online petition, signed by more than 120,000 people, described it as “pure, unadulterated sectarian filth.”

According to The Lady of Heaven’s executive producer Malik Shlibak — who also heads up the Islamic educational non-profit Rafida Foundation and is director of the film’s production company Enlightened Kingdom — the headlines have led to a surge in interest in the feature, which he asserts was made by a team including both Sunni and Shi’a Muslims. However, he says there’s a very negative side to the protests and what that means for freedom of speech in the U.K., and he claims that he — and the film’s writer — have been receiving death threats for years because of their work. While Shlibak notes that much of the anger is over the on-screen portrayal of holy figures, he also says that films such as The Lady of Heaven are gradually pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable.

In a conversation with THR, he also discusses the potential for an actor to one day actually play Muhammad: “Part of the future is stepping into the unknown.”

What are your thoughts about the protests that have erupted over The Lady of Heaven?

From a production standpoint, we’re really happy about it. The protestors have given us huge publicity, so thanks very much. As you can see, the film is all over the news networks, and it wouldn’t have happened without their help. It’s basically a dream come true for any film. That’s the positive side, but obviously there’s a very grim, negative side about what it means to be British and the topic of freedom of speech. It’s negative because of what we’ve seen, but it’s also sparked a lot of conversation about this topic, which is quite useful and helpful. But it is disappointing to see people who claim to be British trying to censor other people from their freedom to express themselves. And their underpinning reason for this it because they feel offended, that’s as far as it goes. The question I ask them is, if I’m quite offended by a lot of your beliefs and a lot of things you say, does that mean we can censor you? It’s an absurd way to tackle any issue.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter

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