Washington [US], January 24 (ANI): Netflix's first Arabic original feature 'Perfect Strangers' has come under intense fire from conservatives across the Middle East within days of its launch on January 20.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the movie got criticized by an Egyptian politician and accused of, among other things, perversion, promoting homosexuality and infidelity and even being part of a plot to disrupt Arab society.
However, at the same time, it has also received critical acclaim and been strongly defended by the artistic community and beyond.
This remake is the latest in a long line of international remakes of the 2016 Italian hit 'Perfect Strangers' and starring Capernaum writer-director Nadine Labaki and Egyptian star Mona Zaki.
It tells the story of a group of friends in Lebanon who one night play a game where they make all the calls and text messages on their phones available to one another, unveiling various secrets and scandals.
While it was expected to become a major talking point and push boundaries, featuring a gay character and other storylines considered taboo and rarely discussed outright on screen in many Middle East countries, few would have anticipated the immediate wave of controversy it would provoke.
On Twitter, the film sparked a barrage of homophobic messages, accused by some of encouraging homosexuality and "moral degradation," and "putting Western ideas in a conservative society." One user accused the film of being a "crime," adding that not only should it be banned but that everyone involved should face "prosecution."Recently, films such as 'Eternals' and 'West Side Story' have been blocked from cinemas across much of the Middle East due to their inclusion of LGBTQ issues, even if minor.
As a film being streamed online on OTT, however, 'Perfect Strangers' didn't need to go through regional censors and was able to land on Netflix uncut.
Much of the anger has originated in Egypt, particularly against Zaki, who in one scene of the film removes her undergarment, although there was no nudity at all. One Twitter user accused Zaki, a huge star in Egypt, of being part of an overseas agenda to force social change.
Spilling outside of social media, Egyptian lawyer Ayman Mahfouz claimed that the film was a "plot to disrupt Arab society" and that Zaki was the "champion" of it all, reported The Hollywood Reporter.
According to reports, Mahfouz, who in 2020 sued the transgender son of Egyptian actor Hesham Selim over an Instagram post he claimed was promoting homosexuality, is now preparing a lawsuit to remove 'Perfect Strangers' from Netflix.
In Egypt, unlike countries in the Gulf, homosexuality isn't officially illegal, although it is regularly cracked down upon in society. But with the fiery backlash has come to a flood of support for the film, with many people praising both the storyline, for raising real-life topics often ignored, and the production itself, while also criticizing the attitudes of those attacking it.
"Arabs losing their minds over a movie that shows cheating spouses, teenagers being teenagers, gay characters; makes me realize that we are not 1% close to discussing topics like civilized beings instead of enclosing ourselves in a hypocritical regressive bubble," said one user. Meanwhile, a hashtag from supporters that translates as ImAlsoAPerfectStranger has emerged.
Egypt's professional actors' union has issued a statement in solidarity with the cast of 'Perfect Strangers', particularly Mona Zaki, calling for the preservation of "creative freedom" and emphasizing the role of the arts in addressing issues in society.
As per The Hollywood Reporter, for all the furore, in terms of numbers, 'Perfect Strangers' has been a huge success so far, topping Netflix's viewing charts in the region and helping underline the drive for more localized content. In France, it's currently the sixth most popular title on the platform. (ANI)