Only two directors have dared...sort of.
Just think: Muslims have never had the Islamic equivalent of The Greatest Story Ever Told, Jesus of Nazareth, The Passion, or any other religious blockbuster with white people playing the role of someone from what we now call the Middle East (how could have Jesus looked anything like Mel Gibson?).
That’s because – as we now all know only too well – depiction of the Prophet in any image but that which God has made Himself is defiantly not allowed.
But what if you want to make a film about the life of Mohammed? How to make a biopic without the person the film is about being in the movie?
Now that’s what I call a casting problem!
For decades Hollywood wouldn’t touch it. No director was that silly. And then came along Moustapha Akkad, a Syrian-born Muslim-American who decided that someone had to grasp the nettle. But though The Message (1977), is about the life of Mohammed, we never actually get to see Mohammed. Whenever He is in a scene we watch the action through His eyes. That way, the director can have the Prophet in the scene, but never in the picture.
Unfortunately, Moustapha’s carefully thought out dramatic device was all in vain. Word got out during shooting that the film was going to be showing Mohammed on screen! What was worse, for some, Anthony Quinn was going to be playing the starring role!(Quinn was in the film, but played the evil Uncle Manza.)
Islamic fundamentalism was on the rise back in the late nineteen seventies, so you can imagine that quite a few people went into one of those televisual frenzies that we are seeing nightly in the news at the moment.
In March, 1977, Black Muslims in the US took 149 people hostage and demanded that The Message be banned. The siege ended with one reporter dead and loads of hostages beaten, stabbed or shot.
To make matters worse, the movie, er… bombed at the box office.
Only one other director has been as silly as poor old Moustapha. In 2002, Richard Rich made an animated film called The Last Prophet (was the guy on drugs?), which was only released in the Middle East and employed the same ‘He’s in the film but He isn’t’ technique as Moustapha did. The movie still hasn’t made it to DVD.
Mooutapha Akkad went on to make zillions as the producer of the Halloween horror movie series.
But he still wanted to make a great Islamic movie. In the last few years he came close to finalizing an $80 million deal to make the story of Saladin, starring Sean Connery, no less. He said about the film:
...Saladin exactly portrays Islam. Right now, Islam is portrayed as a terrorist religion. Because a few terrorists are Muslims, the whole religion has that image. If there ever was a religious war full of terror, it was the crusades. But you can't blame Christianity because a few adventurers did this. That's my message.
And then last November he was attending a wedding at the Hyatt hotel in Amman, Jordon, with his daughter when they were blown to pieces in one of a series of suicide attacks in the capital by ‘al-Qaeda in Iraq’. The daughter died immediately, Moustapha two days later in hospital.
So woe betide any movie ‘moguls’ thinking about doing an Islamic version of The Passion.
Mohammed will defiantly not be appearing at a cinema near you.