The first Arabic Netflix movie tackles taboo and causes controversy

Cairo (AP) — A Lebanese father told his teenage daughter that despite his appointment, he was free to choose whether to have sex with his boyfriend.

The Egyptian wife carefully removes her black lace underwear from under her clothes before going out for dinner. It’s not her husband that she’s trying to appetite.

And at a dramatic moment, the man reveals that he is gay. He’s a secret he’s kept from his shocked longtime friends, but he seems to accept most of it.

The first Arabic Netflix movie scene caused a public drama as intense as what was played on the screen. On social media and television talk shows, and among friends in Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries, the torrent of critics encourages homosexuality and incompatibility with Arab society and makes the film a threat to family and religious values. I blamed you.

Others have rallied to defend the film, saying critics have denied what’s happening in a real-life closed room. If you don’t like the movie, they claim you’re free to sign up for Netflix or just skip the movie.

Titled “Ashab Walla A’azz,” which means “No Dearer Friends,” this movie is an Arabic version of the Italian hit “Perfect Strangers,” which influenced many other international remakes. This is the story of seven friends failing at a dinner party after the hostess suggested that the hostess agreed to share calls, text, and voice messages as a game. When smartphones become a hot topic, secrets are revealed, unfaithfulness is revealed, and relationships are tested.

This controversy has rekindled the debate in the region over artistic freedom and social and religious sensitivities. Censorship; Those that make up taboos in different societies and make up the depictions of gay characters.

Ironically, Netflix in the Middle East took a positive view of gay characters and took up premarital sex, extramarital sex, and even nudes (usually banned in cinemas in the region) with little protest. We are showing a lot of non-Arabic movies and series.

However, it was overkill for some to see those themes featured in Arabic films with Arab actors. (There is no nudity in this movie. Mostly an hour and a half people are talking at the dinner table.)

“I think it’s okay for a normal foreign movie, but I didn’t accept it because it’s an Arabic movie,” Egypt asked to withhold her name because of the sensitivity of the topic. The 37-year-old Elham of the person said. “What happened was culture shock because we don’t accept the idea of ​​homosexuality and intimate relationships before we get married in our society.”

Homosexuality is a particularly strong taboo in Egypt. According to a 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center, 95% of countries say that homosexuality should be rejected by society. In Lebanon, that number was 80% at the time.

The cast of the movie is primarily a prominent Lebanese star, and the event is set in Lebanon. It collects many positive reviews. Fans said they discussed relevant topics away from the stereotypes that usually accompany gay characters and spouse affairs on the screen.

Lebanese journalist Rabbi Farang said the backlash and tweeted that “there is nothing better than hatred of the truth in the Arab world.”

This is not the first time a gay character has appeared in an Arabic movie.

The most famous was the 2006 movie “The Yacoubian Building,” starring an Egyptian actor from The A List, which caused a lot of turmoil, especially including the gay protagonist. But what many saw as a punishment, the character was eventually killed by his lover.

In contrast, the gay characters in “Ashab Walla A’azz” are not drawn negatively. Another character encourages him to expose his former employer who gave him up because of his sexual identity.

Fatima Kamal, a 43-year-old Egyptian, said she did not believe she was promoting homosexuality. She claimed that some Egyptian films in the past were more daring.

“The film touched on the problems that society refuses to face, but they happen,” she said. “We all have a dark side and a hidden story.”

Kamal, who has a 12-year-old son, also rejected the idea that the film would corrupt the Arab youth.

“Technology has changed society. Limiting movies is not the answer,” she said. “The solution is to watch based on age ratings, talk to young people, and make them understand that not everything they see on the screen is okay.”

Speaking on a popular television show, Egyptian parliamentarian Mostafa Bakri argued that the values ​​of Egyptian and Arab families were targeted.

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

Art critic Magda Maurice, who is debating Bakuri at the show, objected. “This movie reveals what mobile phones do to people and their normal lives,” she said.

“Now we can’t ban anything, but we can confront good art,” she added. “The ban is a thing of the past.”

In Egypt, much of the anger was concentrated on Monazaki, the only Egyptian female in the cast, one of the country’s biggest stars. Her personality is seen slipping off her underwear, a gesture that many critics have accused of being scandalous.

On social media, some attacked her by participating in a movie. Abuse online extended to actors and actresses who supported her and praised her performance. Some criticized her real-life husband, an Egyptian movie star, for “permitting” her role.

Egyptian actor Syndicate came out in favor of Zaki, who said he would not obey verbal abuse and intimidation of the actors for their work. He added that freedom of creativity is “protected and protected by syndication” and is committed to the values ​​of Egyptian society.

The Associated Press contacted Netflix for comment on the dispute, but did not receive any comment.

Egypt has long praised the film industry, nicknamed the “Hollywood of the East,” attracting actors from other Arabic-speaking countries and making Egyptian films and dialects Arab around the world. I brought it to my home.

Film critic Khaled Mahmoud states that Egypt “produced powerful and bold films in the 1960s and 1970s.” However, he added, much of that adventurous spirit is lost by the so-called “clean cinema” trend, emphasizing themes that are considered appropriate for families without physical intimacy and discreet clothing.

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

Storylines about incidents and sexual relationships are not uncommon in Arabian films. However, female stars are usually grilled in interviews about whether they agree to wear a swimsuit or kiss a co-star with a camera.

“Our job is to turn art into art,” said Mahmood. “We cannot criticize art through a moral lens.”


Beirut’s Associated Press writer Zeina Karam contributed to this report.


The Associated Press’s religious coverage is supported by Lilly Endowment through The Conversation US. AP is solely responsible for this content.