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The producer of Lord of the Rings and The Matrix has a new project, and it's definitely raising some eyebrows. Barrie Osborne has announced that he's putting $150 million into a film about Muhammad, the founder of Islam.
So here's the thing: according to Muslim tradition, images of the Prophet Muhammad -- in art, in places of worship and presumably on film -- are forbidden. The rule isn't followed the same way by every Muslim; for example, some Shi'a artists will paint the prophet with his face veiled or his head as a ball of flame. But recently, much of the Muslim world has adopted a zero-tolerance policy to depictions of the Prophet. Exhibit A: those worldwide riots four years ago in protest of political cartoons about Muhammad.
Obviously, you wouldn't want to make a film about Islam that offends most of the Islamic world. And Osborne says he wants the film "to educate people about the true meaning of Islam." So here's the plan: he will make a film about Muhammad without ever showing The Prophet onscreen.
Is that even possible? Actually, it's been done before. The Message, a 1976 Arabic film released in the U.S., was made by a Muslim director to introduce the story of Muhammad to a Western audience. The filmmakers took a hard line on depicting The Prophet; they didn't show his image, his voice, or any of his immediate family members. Instead, most of the movie focuses on the people around Muhammad, like his uncle (played by Anthony Quinn). Some scenes were shot from the Prophet's point-of-view, while in others, his presence was indicated by organ music. When the character "spoke", his words would be repeated by another character onscreen. The closest audiences came to seeing the lead character onscreen was seeing the front of his camel.
Will these tricks work for a 21st-century audience? Muslim journalist Shahed Amanullah wrote in The Guardian that he has his doubts: "The Islamic prohibition against portraying the prophet (or his voice or shadow) worked in the simpler days when The Message was made. With today's audience and in today's times, no amount of CGI could curb the frustration audiences would feel in pushing the boundaries of that more than 30-year-old film without a depiction of the main character driving it."
Making a movie about a character who never appears onscreen doesn't seem like a great marketing strategy. On the other hand, making a movie that's causing controversy before it even starts filming? That's downright brilliant.
How do you think they should depict Muhammad? Chime in below!