‘Racist film, take it down’ — Movie on Prophet’s daughter triggers protests in UK
Thirty-five years after protests in the United Kingdom against Salman Rushdie’s novel, The Satanic Verses, unleashed a wave of violence across the globe, Britain is once again in the eye of a storm. This time around, a controversy has erupted over the British film The Lady of Heaven, that its critics have called “blasphemous” and “racist”.
An attempt to narrate the story of the Prophet Muhammad’s daughter, Fatimah al-Zahra, by casting her “as the first victim of terrorism”, the film released in theatres in the UK on 3 June. However, protests forced a number of cinema chains to cancel screenings of the film.
Malik Shlibak, the film’s executive producer told Sky News that people are free to criticise the film, but that the protests have “overstepped boundaries”.
Earlier this week, British cinema company Cineworld — the world’s second-largest cinema chain — cancelled all screenings of the film in the UK in reaction to protests against it in several cities, including Bradford, Leeds, Sheffield, Bolton, Blackburn and Birmingham.
Cineworld’s decision to cancel screenings of the film in the UK is believed to have been prompted by an online petition.
“The film directly disrespects Prophet Muhammad who is depicted by an actor, deeply shocking and disrespectful to the best of creation. It is also a deeply racist film with all the main negative characters being portrayed by black actors. Furthermore it also portrays the companions of our Prophet Muhammad in a bad manner,” the petition says.
Other cinema chains like Vue have reportedly decided to screen the film only at select venues in London.
Videos of a protest outside a Vue theatre in a mall in Stratford where The Lady of Heaven was being screened are also being circulated on social media. Shot Thursday, the video shows protesters shouting “Take it down! Take it down! This is a racist film!”
The visuals reminded some social media users of an incident in January 1988, when protesters had gathered in Bradford, UK, to burn a copy of Salman Rushdie’s book, The Satanic Verses. That protest had triggered a larger controversy and eventually elicited a fatwa from Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini who sentenced Rushdie to death.
Six years later, a mob in Istanbul burned down a hotel which they believed was hosting the Turkish translator of Rushdie’s novel. While the translator was able to escape, the fire claimed 35 lives.
Reacting to protests that have erupted over the premise of The Lady of Heaven, a number of British politicians like Claire Fox, a Member of the House of Lords, have termed the protests a product of “cancel culture”.
These protests erupted in the backdrop of a diplomatic crisis back home that forced the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to suspend its national spokesperson Nupur Sharma over remarks she made on the Prophet Muhammad, which India’s allies in the Gulf termed “blasphemous”.