(Really, what more do I need to tell you? We should all just set up “Mohammed movie” Google Alerts, then stick popcorn makers right by our computers for the next year or two.)
So how do you solve a problem like Mohammed, who can’t be depicted according to sharia?
Well, the Mo-Bio HAS been done before, with The Message (1976), and with oh-so-predictable results:
Because excising the Prophet from his own story would be impossible, Akkad was forced to make a film whose protagonist was, in effect, absent. A Muslim himself, Akkad knew what was at stake — no one had ever successfully attempted a play, much less a film about the Prophet. If he pulled it off, he’d be the cinematic voice of the Muslim world.
If not, they might literally kill him. (…)
Akkad’s solution was simple: Shoot around the protagonist .(…)
But the Arab world was already playing telephone with news of Akkad’s film, mangling facts with fiction and topping the finished rumor with a dash of cross-cultural bias. The rumor was that a Mohammed movie would be made, starring a big-name American celebrity. And since it involved the Americans, who were sure to add insult to sacrilege, then obviously Charlton Heston was in the title role of the Prophet. The final, distilled word-of-mouth amounted to, “Screw you and your huge religion, America is making a movie starring Moses as Mohammed.”
This didn’t sit well with the devout. Bomb threats were already being called in, so Akkad hired four Islamic clerics to oversee the production, trying to quash any unfounded rumors. Shooting began in Morocco, with a sprawling replica of ancient Mecca and the requisite cast of thousands. But soon enough, the clerics quit — though they retained writing credits, a perfect film industry paradox.
Then King Faisal of Saudi Arabia managed to convince Morocco’s King Hassan that the false Mecca built for the movie was *too* good and might draw pilgrims away from the real holy city. Akkad was promptly kicked off his own set, and out of Morocco.
Now remember: they invented chess, you know…
But wait, there’s more:
on March 9, 1977, a group of black Muslims attacked three buildings in downtown Washington D.C. and took 149 people hostage. They had plenty of demands, but the only coherent one was to prevent the upcoming release of “The Message.”
Thirty-nine hours later, the siege was over — a reporter was dead and dozens of hostages had been stabbed, beaten or shot.
Now THAT would be a good movie.
And actually, it IS possible to make a fine film about someone you can’t really show, or who (allegedly) won’t/can’t cooperate. When done well, it’s all very “necessity is the mother of invention,” very po-mo, very “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold”.
But we aren’t dealing with the emperors of “po mo” when we talking about probably irony-challenged Muslim filmmakers.
More like “No Mo.”
The Message worked around the No Mo stricture by using POV shots. Alas, ever since Halloween, POV shots = “what the serial killer is looking at” in movie-speak.
“The Message” bombed, and Akkad went on to direct one more flop, “Lion of the Desert,” funded in large part by Qaddafi, before making a considerable fortune as the executive producer of all eight
Have you already guessed??
And then he died — in a Muslim suicide bombing!
Like I said: we’re in for loads of fun.