Last week, streaming service Netflix released its much-awaited first Arabic language film production, the movie ‘Ashab Wala Aaz’ – a remake of the Italian comedy-drama 'Perfetti Sconosciutti' (Perfect Strangers).
The film features renowned actors from Lebanon, Egypt, and Jordan, including Adel Karam, Diamand Bou Abboud, and Mona Zaki.
Released on January 20, it quickly became one of Egypt’s most-streamed films. However, it also sparked an almighty backlash in the country, angering many.
The film, set in Lebanon, revolves around an evening in which a group of friends decides to spice up their night by playing a very 21st-century parlor game. Each of them agrees to share every text message, email, and phone call received with the rest of the group.
The game reveals shocking truths about the friends, as it touches on topics from homosexuality to adultery and premarital sex – all of which are widely considered taboo in conservative Egypt.
Homosexuality is often punished under loosely worded laws prohibiting “debauchery,” although not explicitly outlawed. Premarital sex is also taboo and has been known to provoke honor killings in rural and ultra-conservative communities.
Egyptian actress Zaki has been condemned by many on social media for her role in the “morally corrupt” movie.
One lawyer contended that the film actually “promotes homosexuality” while a commenter claimed the filmmakers were seeking to “destroy family values” as part of a “systematic war on the morals” of Egyptian society.
According to reports, a number of lawsuits have been filed against the culture ministry and the censor’s office for allowing the movie to be aired.
Egyptian MP Mostafa Bakri argued that Netflix should be completely banned from the country and demanded a debate in parliament to discuss it. He was particularly critical of one scene in which a father talks to a daughter about her first sexual encounter.
Some critics even labeled the film as “pornographic.”
Magda Khair-Allah, a movie critic, defended the film, noting that it simply reflects things that are known to exist within society.
“Those who get offended should not watch the film. The movie is on a platform and not in the cinema, and no one is forced to watch it,” she added.
The Acting Professions Syndicate of Egypt issued a statement in response to the criticism, calling on people not to attack actors simply because they featured in a work they do not approve of.
“The Syndicate will not stand idly by in front of any verbal assault or attempt to intimidate any Egyptian artist or undermine him [or her],” the statement reads, adding that the group will support Zaki against the barrage of criticism.