Rasheed Abou-AlsamhArab News
JEDDAH, 12 October 2007 — The banning of the new Hollywood movie “The Kingdom” by Bahrain and Kuwait this week was deemed counterproductive and largely symbolic by a cross-section of experts interviewed by Arab News.
The movie, which depicts a team of US Federal Bureau of Investigation agents battling Islamist extremists in Saudi Arabia after an attack on Western expatriates here — based on actual terrorist attacks that have taken place in Saudi Arabia in recent years — was banned in Kuwait for an alleged false depiction of facts, according to a Ministry of Information official there.
Saudi Arabia has not yet announced a ban on the movie. While the Kingdom has no movie theaters, DVD films (both licensed and pirated copies) are widely available. A ban would mean the film would only be available as pirated copies sold on the street.
“The Kingdom” is already being screened in the United Arab Emirates and was to be screened during Eid Al-Fitr in Qatar.
“I think this is a problem — to ban a movie that shows how the West thinks about us,” said Ahmed Al-Ibrahim, a Saudi businessman who worked extensively with the director Peter Berg as a consultant on the film. “We should know how other people think of us Saudis, and the movie shows that the West and Saudi Arabia stand together against terrorism.”
But one Kuwaiti blogger who saw the movie and who blogs under the handle “This Lady Says”, said she was not surprised that the film was banned; it depicts the Americans as the heroes that come in and rescue the bungling Saudis, she pointed out.
“The supposedly ‘Saudi’ characters speak in dialects more related to Bilad Al-Sham,” wrote the blogger, referring to the accent of Syrian Arabic. “They portray a Saudi prince, as well as Saudi figures, such as generals in the army, as ignorant or just plain dumb. They made many sarcastic jokes about them, and portrayed the American FBI agents as the heroes who go to Saudi Arabia to bring freedom and stop terrorists.”
Yet Al-Ibrahim insists that the original script that he read was far worse, and that by being on the set throughout the filming of the movie he was able to change many negative portrayals of Saudis into positive ones.
“I asked for many changes and I tried my best to get the accents right, but it was hard to teach (the actors) a Najdi accent,” said the consultant.
John Burgess, who runs “Crossroads Arabia,” a Florida-based blog about the Kingdom, said by e-mail that he felt that Saudis were portrayed realistically in the film, showing both the good and bad ones.
“Many Saudis are shown in a very positive manner,” said Burgess, a former US diplomat who served at the US Embassy in Riyadh for several years. “Perhaps the most heroic is the Saudi security official, a sergeant, who is shown being abused in an early scene in the film. He rises from the humiliation of his ill-treatment to serve his country to the best of his ability.”
Apart from the debate over whether Saudis were portrayed favorably or not in the film, many commentators noted that banning the film in the Gulf would only encourage the viewing public to download the forbidden fruit off the Internet illegally or buy pirated DVD copies.
“By banning the film it fuels illegal downloading and pirated copies, which I guarantee we’ll see on Kuwaiti streets during the Eid holidays,” wrote Kuwaiti blogger Amer on his blog Hilaliya.
“Telling people that they cannot have something, for no apparently good reason, always tempts them to try and get it through one means or another,” he said. “Illegal downloads, copying, bringing DVDs across the border are sure to result.”
Michael Saba, an American businessman and executive director of the Friends of Saudi Arabia group in Washington, D.C., said he felt viewing audiences should decide for themselves whether they should watch it or not.
“Viewers should be able to make their own judgments and should have the chance to see it,” said Saba.
“I really don’t know if the movie will be banned here,” said Al-Ibrahim. “But I hope that Bahrain and Kuwait will reconsider their decision. I think that the more people see the movie, the less reason there will be to ban it here in Saudi Arabia.”