The controversy around the trailer Innocence of Muslims
An extended trailer for a very low budget and low quality film called Innocence of Muslims has been causing some major problems around the world from political shouting to public protesting and stretching to threats, violence and even cold blooded murder. It's amazing that a film can cause such a reaction but then it isn't so much about the film as about the beliefs on either side of the camera.
It's also surprising to know that this extended trailer has been online since July and took a while to start gaining any real notice but now has already received almost five million views. While the backlash looks like it's calmed down it seems there is still a lot of information to come out about the film itself and the people behind it, but it's clear that this trailer has been made in order to create the backlash and incite the Muslim world.
When we first heard about the trailer the stories were confused and no one was making any real mention of what the trailer looked like or who was behind it, the focus was on the uproar being against the video.
The Guardian told us that the film was made by an Israeli film-maker living in California who had gone into hiding after he made Innocence of Muslims. Once he had released the trailer online the story spread across the news after the American embassy in Libya had been attacked and diplomatic staff murdered, instantly making many more millions of people aware of it.
The film-maker, although I think it's rich to call him that, was using the name of Sam Bacile and has since been revealed as Nakoula Basseley Nakoula with stories about the man suggesting his life was being threatened as was his right to free speech, still his words were attacking and sought to incite and he said that he had intended his film to be a provocative political statement against the religion.
It's claimed that the full film runs for two hours, was made with fifty-nine actors, cost US $5 million to make and was financed through various sources. To begin with the claim was that the money came from multiple Jewish donors however it is now starting to look like backing came from fundamentalist Christian groups. It's also claimed that there is in fact a two hour film although it only seems to be a thirteen minute "trailer" of random scenes and shots that have little connection and no real storyline or indeed quality.
Although this trailer is just a series of short clips the claims are clear, insults and accusations against the prophet of the Muslim religion as well as the followers of the religion, claims that range from idiocy, murder and sexual abuse, and considering any depiction of the Muslim prophet can raise offence with Muslims these kinds of claims are a making a massive statement.
Rightfully so Nakoula was sorry about the death of a member of the Embassy but did not accept that the blame lay with the film, instead saying that the blame lay with the security at the Embassy and the people who murdered him.
Yet however much I would defend free speech and the right to make such a film this isn't as clear cut as it seems and as the stories began to come out so the story behind the film became darker.
Gawker has a recent story that suggests Nakoula Basseley Nakoula was not the director of the trailer and in fact it was Alan Roberts, a sixty-five year old man who has directed softcore and low budget films. However it doesn't have confirmation from the man himself and while most of the comments are from others claiming that he is, or could be, the director, there's no statement as to whether he too was duped into directing the trailer which was later redubbed. A business associate of Roberts is quoted as saying that the man had nothing to do with the editing and the redubbing so it too sounds as though he was duped into making footage for the trailer, just as the actors were.
Stories began appearing two of which I've picked from The Guardian and Gawker which revealed that the cast had no knowledge of what the final "film" was going to become and claimed that what you see said in the trailer is not what they said.
Cindy Lee Garcia was one of the first to claim that they were told the film was called Desert Warriors and that it was set in Egypt and at no point were they told or shown that the film was anything to do with religion, Muslims or their religions' prophet.
It was at this point that I first saw the trailer and realised then that a lot of the lines that mention anything to do with terrorism, Mohammed, Muslims, religion, etc. were all overdubbed, that's extremely clear when you watch it and it's not just some of the actors, you can see it throughout the trailer.
Other stories, like this one in the L.A. Times, started to show other actors in the film claiming exactly the same thing. They were talking about a character called George, not Mohammed, and that many of their lines were very different from the ones you can hear in the trailer that end up causing the offence. They were told completely different stories about the characters, the story and the setting, some weren't paid for their time and they weren't told about any overdubbing, although it does seem as though some actors were at least asked back to perform some overdubbing work.
Now of course it doesn't matter, this is no longer a film but a tool for political use. Certain parties are using it to incite groups to violence and amazingly it has and is working. Rather than watching the trailer and seeing it for what it is, ignoring it and watching it die in a lack of page views, column inches and news minutes there has been immediate anger and hatred and groups have taken to violent protests resulting in the destruction of American, German and UK foreign property as well as the murder of American citizens.
Stupidity and ignorance rains on all sides.
The Hollywood Reporter have a story that the alleged film, I keep saying that because there's no evidence that there's anything more than the thirteen minute collection of random scenes, was set to be screened in Germany by a group who have a history of provoking the Muslim community, and while German authorities tried to quash the screening the group claimed they were moving ahead with it, even though they haven't seen the alleged film.
What's more the story reveals that the Christian fundamentalist Terry Jones was involved in the production of the film and the German group were talking to him regarding receiving a copy for screening as well as inviting him to Germany as a key speaker, something the German authorities have managed to avoid.
The Chicago Tribune delivered the good news that the authorities had managed to cancel the event and this would seem to be achieved under the German law which ensures freedom of speech except where it incites hatred against others.
It's clear that groups on either side of this story are using film-making as a channel to get their own messages of incitement and hatred heard by a wider audience, particularly the audience on the opposite side. Fundamentalists from both religions are rising up, one with violence and one with political savvy, while neither side seems willing to take a breath and back down but that is because this is not about film-making or freedom of speech and it never was.
My personal views of religion aside, I do find it incredible that people haven't realised that if they had just ignored the crude politically motivated short video that the message wouldn't have been seen and the hateful and deliberately inciting messages would not have been heard, that the violent demonstrations with such a negative message would not have been seen around the world, and that the people who have been murdered would still be alive and with their families.
Was this all caused by a film and freedom of speech? No, I don't think you can say that. This has nothing to do with film-making and everything to do with opposing groups who are intent on using whatever method they can to incite and destroy the other.
Should the film be stopped? So far YouTube have refused to remove it since it doesn't technically break any of their guidelines for content, however they may have to soon think about it.
The first actress to speak out about her involvement in the film, Cindy Lee Garcia, has decided to sue the producers of the film over what they have done with her performance claiming alleging fraud, slander and intentional infliction of emotional distress and that she and her family have received death threats according to the L.A. Times, and quite rightly so. She has also decided to sue YouTube to get them to remove the video claiming that it wasn't about freedom of speech but invasion of privacy.
While I don't understand why the actress tried to sue Google to remove the video it is clear that YouTube are coming under increasing pressure to do just that. The Inquirer has a story that the video has been blocked in Pakistan and Bangladesh by one of the largest ISPs there and that Google has indeed blocked access to it in some countries, however they have not yet removed it. I do believe it's only a matter of time.
What we need to see are the actors joining up and suing everyone involved in the making of the production and the backers of the film for being misrepresented and lied to but at the same time we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that freedom of speech for legitimate films should not be affected because of this misuse of film and that justice should still be sought for the people murdered in the violence that occurred regardless of how it was incited.
A story from The Guardian reveals that in response to Garcia's a Judge has refused to order YouTube to remove the video and so it remains. Meanwhile the EU, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, the Arab League and the African Union issued a joint statement which says:
"We are united in our belief in the fundamental importance of religious freedom and tolerance. We condemn any advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to hostility and violence. While fully recognising freedom of expression, we believe in the importance of respecting all prophets, regardless of which religion they belong to. The anguish of Muslims at the production of the film insulting Islam, posting of its trailer on the internet and other similar acts, is shared by all individuals and communities who refuse to allow religion to be used to fuel provocation, confrontation and extremism."
Frankly in this day and age that statement should be issued without any references to religion anywhere in there and this should be about the rights of people everywhere to hold their beliefs with tolerance and acceptance from all as well as the rights of people to have their freedom of speech without the fear of murderous reprisals against themselves or others.
There's a fine line being walked here as some of the protests and protesters are guilty of that "incitement to hostility and violence" as those who made the video, and while freedom of speech rightly allowed people to make the video is it not also right that to avoid further bloodshed, violence, destruction and incitement that it should perhaps be removed?
I can't help but think that if the majority of peaceful protestors would stand up against those destroying property, burning flags and murdering people then maybe the world would see the percentage of protestors who are peaceful and perhaps we really could see if these protests were being hijacked by others agendas.
Do let us remember that this film is not created by the American government as anti-Islamic propaganda, nor is it produced by Hollywood, it's an independent film made with private people's money and it looks that way too, and so far it's nothing more than a trailer. It could very well have been made by fundamentalist religious groups to spark such a reaction so we should stop treating it as a "film".
The good news is that recently Nakoula Basseley Nakoula has been arrested and his criminal record revealed, in fact he's been held in custody under probation after breaking his probation on some eight counts and being deemed a flight risk. According to The Guardian story it now looks like he could face up to two years in prison after his trial, however these are only because he broke probation on eight counts not because of what he has done with this propaganda.
That said it doesn't look like everyone is being so rational as protestors apparently stormed cinemas in Pakistan, one of which Sky News through The Hollywood Reporter claims was known for showing "pornographic" films, and set them alight. There is no word that the cinemas had shown the video or were planning to.
Film certainly has a lot of power but at the same time this demonstrates the power of the crowd and of the audience. If this had been ignored and the protests and violence not happened, these stories would not have appeared and perhaps the viewing figures on the laughable and cheaply made "trailer" would not have hit a fraction of what they have and the majority of viewers would have dismissed it as tripe, far from anything associated with real film-making or anything resembling intelligent thought.