The first Arab production to be released in Saudi Arabia after the kingdom lifted a four-decade ban on cinema is Moustapha Akkad’s controversial epic The Message. Akkad’s movie is a chronicle of the life of Prophet Muhammad and early Islamic history. The Message will be released on June 14.
The 1976 film, released in a three-hour English version and a 207-minute Arabic version, has enjoyed a following in the Arab world since its release. But the film was boycotted by conservatives who sought its ban for Akkad’s depiction of Prophet Muhammad and his companions.
The film had a troubled released back in 1976. Five days before its London premiere, Akkad, after receiving threats over the phone, had to change the film’s title from Mohammad, Messenger of God to The Message, which cost 50,000 pounds.
In 1977, gun-wielding terrorists belong to the Hanafi Movement staged a siege of the B’nai B’rith building in Washington DC. The group demanded that the film’s release in the United States to be cancelled or they would blow up the building. The group was reportedly motivated by the mistaken belief that actor Anthony Quinn was playing Muhammad, when, in fact, Quinn was playing Muhammad’s uncle Hamza. Muhammad was not portrayed by any actor, nor was his voice heard. A policeman and a journalist died in the standoff.
The film got composer Maurice Jarre an Academy Award nomination in the Best Original Score category at the 50th Academy Awards.