Saturday, November 14, 2009

A question about Darwin and Muhammad biopics

I was posed the following question by the folks at Science and Religion Today: Would a Muhammad biopic be more controversial than a Darwin movie? Here is part of my response:

I’m not even sure if the Darwin biopic Creation has really been controversial (beyond speculations on the blogosphere). Yes, it was not immediately picked up for U.S. distribution, but, as far as I know, it was not because of any protests or opinion pieces in newspapers. It may have been a self-imposed reluctance on the part of distributors, but then it’s a bit odd, as far more controversial films get picked up regularly (Currently, Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist is playing in theaters and is distributed by IFC Films in the United States.) Furthermore, Darwin’s biopic did get picked up for U.S. distribution within a month of its premiere at the Toronto Film Festival. Does this really qualify as being controversial?

The Muhammad biopic, on the other hand, has the potential of being controversial. However, from what I have read so far, it won’t be. It is quite clear that the movie is going to portray nothing but a glowing picture of Muhammad and the early days of Islam. One place of potential controversy, of course, would be the character of Muhammad on screen. If the filmmakers do that, then yes, the movie will become very controversial. However, I’m pretty sure that Muhammad will not be on the screen, nor will his son-in-law Ali (revered by Shia as well as Sunni Muslims) or his wives.

This is not unprecedented. The 1976 movie The Message starring Anthony Quinn told the story of early Islam. The character of Muhammad was never shown on the screen—though sometimes, he was the camera’s point of view. In addition, none of the first four caliphs of Islam (Abu-Bakr, Umar, Uthman, and Ali) were shown on screen, and the new biopic will most likely follow this principle.

Here is the link to Science and Religion Today.

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