“Da Vinci Code” movie banned by Egypt, Lebanon, Syria & Jordan

May 16, 2006

* The eagerly awaited film of Dan Brown’s international mega-bestseller “The Da Vinci Code,” has its world premiere tomorrow evening in Cannes, but already several Muslim-majority states have announced they will ban it

 

CONTENTS

1. “The Da Vinci code” banned across much of the Middle East
2. “Harms Christian and Muslim religious symbols”
3. Did God have grandchildren?
4. Cannes film festival to devote a full day to Israeli cinema
5. “The Da Vinci Code’s” influence on Arab feminists
6. “Da Vinci code film may be banned in Jordan” (Sapa-AFP, May 6, 2006)
7. “‘Da Vinci’ unlikely to pass Egypt censors” (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, May 14, 2006)
8. “Catholics protest at Da Vinci film” (Al-Jazeera.net, May 11, 2006)
9. “‘Code’ as a blessing in heretical disguise” (Washington Post, May 14, 2006)



[All notes below by Tom Gross]

“THE DA VINCI CODE” BANNED ACROSS MUCH OF THE MIDDLE EAST

The eagerly awaited film version of “The Da Vinci Code,” which stars Tom Hanks, will open the prestigious Cannes Film Festival tomorrow (Wednesday) evening, two days before its release at movie theaters worldwide.

However Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan have all said they will ban the movie.

At this time, Bahrain, Israel, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are the only Middle Eastern countries scheduled to show the screen version of Dan Brown’s mega-bestseller.

The film will be released in cinemas in Israel, and in several European, Asian and South American countries on Thursday, and in the US, UK and elsewhere on Friday.

A list of the countries that are showing the film can be found here:
www.sonypictures.com/movies/davincicode/international.

 

“HARMS CHRISTIAN AND MUSLIM RELIGIOUS SYMBOLS”

Jordan and Egypt are banning the film because it “harms Christian and Muslim religious symbols by calling into question what is written in the Gospels and the Koran on the personality of Christ,” according to the secretary general of the Jordanian Council of Churches, Archbishop Hanna Nour.

Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt had all previously banned “The Da Vinci Code” book.

Jordan has recently banned a number of films, including Syriana, Paradise Now and Munich.

In the past, Egypt banned Elizabeth Taylor’s “Cleopatra” (1963), on the grounds that Taylor was a “Zionist agent.” Egypt also banned “The Devil’s Advocate,” starring Al Pacino, in 1997. But Mel Gibson’s controversial “Passion of the Christ” (2004) (denounced as anti-Semitic by many Jewish groups) was shown in Egypt, as was last year’s “Kingdom of Heaven,” a portrayal of the Crusades and the battle for Jerusalem, which played in Cairo to favorable reviews, but was denounced by some American commentators as pro-al Qaeda propaganda.

Christian groups around the world have also protested against the showing of “The Da Vinci Code,” and the Vatican has condemned the film.

However, as the Washington Post article (attached below) notes, many Christians around the world “say they view the movie as a disguised gift: a historic evangelizing moment in which Christians will have a ready opportunity to speak with nonbelievers about God’s word.”

 

DID GOD HAVE GRANDCHILDREN?

The film, based on a novel by American author Dan Brown, is built upon the premise that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, one of his followers, with whom he had children, whose descendants have survived up to the present day.

The novel, which was published in 2003, has sold over 60 million copies worldwide, and has inspired tours to the museums, chateaux, churches and monuments mentioned in it. It has also spawned Web sites and nonfiction accounts debating its merits and has bolstered the sale of other Holy Grail books (including one whose authors recently claimed, unsuccessfully, at London’s High Court, was plagiarized by Brown). At least 45 books have come out to rebut points in Dan Brown’s novel, as well as more than a dozen CDs and DVDs.

Ron Howard, The Da Vinci Code’s director, has defended the film’s subject matter: “This is a work of fiction. It’s not theology. It’s not history. Spy thrillers don’t start off with disclaimers,” he said.

 

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL TO DEVOTE A FULL DAY TO ISRAELI CINEMA

In a bid to show “the cultural diversity of world cinema,” this year’s Cannes film festival will devote a full day to Israeli cinema in the framework of its “Tous les Cinemas du Monde” program. (It should be mentioned that many Israeli-made films are very pro-Palestinian.)

The program also includes Russia, Singapore, Switzerland, Venezuela, Tunisia and Chile, as well as Israel.

Israel Film Day in Cannes will conclude with a party for Israeli filmmakers held on the boardwalk.

I attach four articles below, which report on the diverse reactions across the world to what will most likely be the biggest movie of 2006. Please note that article about Catholic objection comes from one of al-Jazeera’s websites.

-- Tom Gross

 

“THE DA VINCI CODE’S” INFLUENCE ON ARAB FEMINISTS

A special correspondent from the Arab world contacts me to add, specially for this website:

Not everyone in the Arab world wants to ban “The Da Vinci Code”; some say there are lessons to be learned.

On October 2, 2005, Rana Abu Ata, a local correspondent in Riyadh (Saudi Arabia) for the al-Arabiya TV channel, wrote an article in the London-based international mainstream Arab daily al-Hayat. The article deals with the affects of the novel “The Da Vinci Code,” as perceived by the writer, on educated young women in the Muslim world and is titled “Women’s rights in Islam: between renewal and imprecation.”

Rana Abu Ata opens by mentioning the important role women played in the formation of Christianity according to Dan Brown, and then goes on to say she was recently surprised to find out the depth of influence the novel has had on educated young Arab women. The novel, she says, “has opened doors that were locked behind veils” of the role of religion in daily life. The heart of the discussion, she adds, is the need to discuss the status of women in modern Arab societies and the unfair reduction of their rights which came even though the Koran says the status and rights of men and women should be equal.

The writer sees “the process of marginalization of women” as a “snowball which gains size and dynamics on its way from the top to the bottom [of the hill]”, and blames the current situation on the fact that most of the Arab countries were established under French law, and no sufficient progress has been made since. The writer suggests personal rights should be re-discussed, especially the right to divorce which, she states, is a legislative [shar’i] right for women.

The article appeared here: www.alarabiya.net/Articlep.aspx?P=17309



FULL ARTICLES

DA VINCI CODE FILM BANNED IN JORDAN

Da Vinci code film may be banned in Jordan
Sapa-AFP
May 6, 2006

www.iol.co.za/index.php?click_id=3&art_id=qw114692292034R131&set_id=

The head of the Jordanian Council of Churches called Saturday for the controversial film “The Da Vinci Code” to be banned from cinemas in Jordan, state news agency Petra reported.

The council’s secretary general, Archbishop Hanna Nour, was quoted as saying the film “harms the image of Christ,” pointing out that the book of the same title, written by American author Dan Brown, is already banned in Jordan.

It “harms Christian and Muslim religious symbols by calling into question what is written in the Gospels and the Koran on the personality of Christ,” Nour said.

The film, scheduled for global release on May 19, explores the idea that Jesus Christ married Mary Magdalene, had children, and that their descendants have survived up to the present day.

It depicts a conservative Roman Catholic order, the Opus Dei, as involved in a dark plot to avoid discovery of Jesus’s descendants.

The director of Jordan’s audiovisual authority, Mohammed Shawabkeh, said there is a “good chance the film will be banned because of the negative reactions it is likely to provoke among Christians in Jordan.”

Last week, an aide to Pope Benedict XVI called on the public to shun the movie, describing the novel as perversely anti-Christian.

 

“BASICALLY, IT IS SELF-CENSORSHIP”

‘Da Vinci’ unlikely to pass Egypt censors
By Betsy Hiel
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
May 14, 2006

www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/news/middleeastreports/s_453828.html

“The Da Vinci Code,” the film based on Dan Brown’s best-selling book, will not be seen in Egypt when it is released worldwide Friday.

Nor will the long-awaited film play in Jordan or Lebanon, which banned Arabic translations of the book.

Observers here blame fears that the film’s controversial take on Christ’s life will fan sectarian tension. The thriller posits the idea that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and their heirs exist today in secret.

Christian-Muslim relations in Egypt are especially strained after two deadly clashes in Alexandria, the country’s second largest city.

Youssef Sidhom, editor of a Christian newsweekly, thinks many Egyptians may view the film as “a conspiracy against Christianity.” But he opposes banning it, which he expects would provoke more curiosity and a greater demand for pirated copies.

“If the movie was green-lighted by the censors, it would be criticized by the Coptic Church,” Egyptian film critic Sherif Awad said.

Coptic Christians make up 10 to 15 percent of Egypt’s 73 million people.

Moustafa Darwish worked as a film critic and directed government censorship in the 1960s. He recalls “many films (that) had something to do with religion... were forbidden,” although he felt they contained “nothing against public order or morals.”

Films showing “the face or voice of a prophet or his disciples” were routinely banned, he says.

Darwish was fired because he allowed movie trailers of Elizabeth Taylor’s “Cleopatra” (1963), “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (1966) and “The Taming of the Shrew” (1967) to run in Egyptian theaters. At the time, Taylor was considered a “Zionist agent,” he said, laughing.

Religious films are always controversial, and “Da Vinci Code” has stirred debate and criticism from clergymen worldwide.

Jordan’s Council of Churches urged the government to ban the film, according to the official Petra news agency. Council secretary-general Hanna Nour said the film tarnishes the memory of Christian and Islamic figures and “contradicts the truth as written in the Bible and the Quran about Jesus.”

A 1976 film, “The Message,” about the Muslim prophet Muhammad, remains banned in Egypt, according to Darwish. Mustafa Akkad, the film’s Syrian producer-director (and executive producer of many of the “Halloween” films), died in a 2005 terrorist attack in Amman, Jordan.

Egypt’s censors, a shadowy group, have long been part of filmmakers’ and critics’ lives.

“In 1954 and ’55,” Darwish said, “(American director) Cecil B. DeMille came to Egypt for the movie ‘The Ten Commandments.’ The crossing of the Red Sea, where the Egyptian army drowned and the Israelis crossed all that was filmed in Egypt. We gave them our army (to film it).”

But some Egyptians claimed the film was used as Zionist propaganda, playing in New York just days after Israel’s invasion of the Egyptian Sinai in 1956.

“So we banned it, and until now it is banned. See? Made in Egypt, and banned in Egypt,” he said, shaking his head.

“The Devil’s Advocate,” starring Al Pacino, played in Cairo theaters briefly in 1997, according to film critic Awad. But Pacino’s final climactic speech as the devil was not subtitled in Arabic, and the film was soon banned.

Mel Gibson’s controversial “Passion of the Christ” (2004) hit screens here only after Egyptian Christians pressured the film’s local distributor to pass it by censors, he said.

Last year’s “Kingdom of Heaven,” a portrayal of the Crusades and the battle for Jerusalem, played here to favorable reviews.

Darwish explains the lines of reasoning weighing against “Da Vinci” opening in Egypt: “One is that the film will be sent here after the agents are sure it will be approved by the censors. Two, the producers decided not to send it here because the agent advised that it could be banned. ... Basically, it is self-censorship.”

Government censorship director Ali Abu Shadi insisted censors have not seen the film, adding: “We cannot ban it if a copy hasn’t come to us.”

Allied Film Distributors, the film’s local agent, removed movie trailers and publicity material from Cairo theaters.

“The company in America has to decide whether we are going to offer it or not because of a 90 percent chance it will be banned,” said Allied spokeswoman Nevene Refaat.

Awad thinks “Da Vinci” could earn $350,000 to $520,000 in Egypt, calling that “big money” for a foreign film. Ticket prices here typically range from $1 to $4.

For now, Bahrain, Israel, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are the only Middle Eastern countries scheduled to show “Da Vinci” upon its release.

“The only thing to fear is fear itself,” Darwish said, quoting Franklin Roosevelt. “Here in the Middle East, there is more fear than ever.”

(Betsy Hiel is a Middle East correspondent for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.)

 

CATHOLICS PROTEST AT DA VINCI FILM

Catholics protest at Da Vinci film
Al Jazeera.net
May 11, 2006

english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/AD0C766C-7316-42D2-A40E-5CB9941CB557.htm

Christian groups across the globe are protesting against The Da Vinci Code, the soon-to-be-released film based on the best-selling novel.

In India on Wednesday about 2,000 Roman Catholics marched through Mumbai, many carrying placards saying: “Stop hurting our faith.”

In the Philippines, where more than 80% of the population is Catholic, a government official called for the film to be banned in the country, describing it as blasphemous.

“I think we should do everything not to allow it to be shown,” Eduardo Ermita, executive secretary to the president, said on Wednesday.

The Vatican has also condemned the film, and Cardinal Francis Arinze urged Christians to take legal action to protect their faith from “those who blaspheme Christ”.

Meanwhile in Jordan, a Muslim country, the Council of Churches called for the film to be banned.

Catholic leaders in Greece and Austria have also condemned the film.

Director’s defence

The film is based on the eponymous novel by Dan Brown, an American author. It contains the premise that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, one of his followers, with whom he had children.

The film and novel have been criticised by Opus Dei, a conservative Catholic organisation that features heavily in the novel and which claims it has been unfairly depicted.

“Those who do further research and exercise critical judgment will discover that assertions made in The Da Vinci Code... lack support among reputable scholars,” the group said in a statement.

It has also demanded that the film carry a disclaimer before any film screening, saying that the events it depicts are fictional.

However, Ron Howard, the film’s director, rejected the demand and defended the film’s subject matter.

“This is a work of fiction... it’s not theology, it’s not history. Spy thrillers don’t start off with disclaimers,” he told the Los Angeles Times newspaper.

 

“A DISGUISED GIFT”

‘Code’ as a blessing in heretical disguise
In a shift, some Christians see movie as bridge to nonbelievers
By Michelle Boorstein and Alan Cooperman
The Washington Post
May 14, 2006

www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/05/13/AR2006051301104.html

Greg Beatty’s first look at “The Da Vinci Code” came when a neighbor reached across his back fence in 2003 and handed the Catholic lawyer the book and a question: Is this true?

After reading the novel, Beatty saw the questioning spread from his Springfield yard to his downtown office at the National Labor Relations Board. Was Jesus really married? Do some members of the Catholic group Opus Dei really wear self-mutilating belts? Beatty could answer some things but not others.

Forty-five million copies later, his challenge is about to get bigger. On Friday, Hollywood will release its version of “The Da Vinci Code,” but Beatty along with many other Christians is ready.

Hundreds of churches have distributed books and DVDs meant to expose what they say are the film’s many historical inaccuracies. Pastors are delivering sermons about issues raised by the movie. In classes and seminars, Christians of several denominations are being trained in how to talk about the themes.

Many people involved in these programs say they view the movie as a disguised gift: a historic evangelizing moment in which Christians will have a ready opportunity to speak with nonbelievers about God’s word.

That’s where Beatty fits in. Last week, he attended a talk at Queen of Apostles Catholic Church in Alexandria, where people were coached in how to handle post-film conversations. “This is a chance to teach people a whole lot more than they might have learned if they hadn’t read the book,” he said. “And they are bringing the subject to you, so now you are free to really explore it with them.”

Some Catholic activists and authorities, including top Vatican officials, have urged Christians to boycott the movie. But the fact that so many churches are taking the opposite tack reflects what some see as religion’s growing engagement with mainstream culture, not unlike skateboard ministries or hip-hop preachers.

“This is how young people find things out, through the media,” said the Rev. Terry Specht, who works for the Catholic Diocese of Arlington and has given pre-movie lectures at bars and schools in the past couple of weeks.

“If I walk into a high school and say I’m going to talk about Constantine nothing,” he said, referring to the 4th-century Christian emperor. “If I say I’m going to talk about this film and then Constantine, it connects. These are the things that are real to them.”

In addition to being an evangelizing moment, this is a big-business moment. At least 45 books have come out to rebut points in Dan Brown’s novel, as well as more than a dozen CDs and DVDs tied to the film’s release that explore the book, church history and the New Testament.

The novel follows a Harvard professor and a Paris police cryptographer who, while trying to solve a murder, stumble across a secret covered up by a centuries-old clandestine society: that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and that they had a daughter.

Although the drumbeat of Christian defenders grew slowly after Brown’s book came out in 2003, the campaign pegged to the movie’s release has been broad and highly organized. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in March launched a documentary and a Web site, http://jesusdecoded.com. Hundreds of churches are using debunking “kits” created by a coalition of nondenominational megachurch ministers. And at least seven television specials in which historians, theologians and archaeologists take issue with “The Da Vinci Code” are scheduled to air this month.

Whether Brown’s thriller deserves to be taken so seriously by religious leaders is unclear. A survey released this month by the Barna Group, a religious polling firm, found that 5 percent of U.S. adults who had read the book said it had changed some of their religious beliefs or perspectives. Although a quarter of the respondents called the book “helpful” to their spiritual growth, George Barna, the company’s founder, said he thought the book simply confirmed people’s doubts. “I think that 24 percent were skeptics,” he said.

However, pastors and Christian activists say their sense, from overhearing people chatting about the book at the bus stop or the barber shop, is that many aren’t versed enough in church history to distinguish fact from fiction.

“I think some folks take everything they read at face value. And 10 times as many people are likely to see a movie as read a book,” said Mark Norman, pastor at Grace Community Church near Laurel, where congregants are holding a four-week series of pre-movie talks.

“Conversations about Jesus don’t happen with outsiders much. People have spiritual interest and no forum to talk about it,” he said.

Steve Weidenkopf, who runs parish talks for the Diocese of Arlington, agrees that the film holds great potential for sparking thoughtful dialogue. He finds it hard to believe that tens of millions of people were drawn to “The Da Vinci Code” out of anti-Christian venom and instead sees the book’s success as evidence of a spiritual hunger.

“People like it because they think they are learning about Christ and about church history. And modern man has in his heart a desire to know God,” Weidenkopf said. The book’s epic success “has to be drawing on something that’s in people.”

Not everyone takes such a sanguine view. Cardinal Francis Arinze, the Vatican’s chief liturgist and one of several Roman Catholic officials who have spoken out against the film, said Christians should consider legal action against the filmmakers.

One Roman Catholic organization plans to protest at 1,000 movie theaters across the country, and another is calling for Christians to instead buy tickets for the children’s film “Over the Hedge,” which comes out the same day.

The Rev. Mike Licona was boycott-minded in 1988, when “The Last Temptation of Christ” came out. In hindsight, that action created the impression that Christians weren’t open to debate, said Licona, who is the director of interfaith evangelism for the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board. This time, he has been training church groups to understand and respond to the film. This movie, he says, “is a big juicy softball lobbed at anyone” who wants to talk about Jesus.

“It’s easy to knock out of the park, because so much of it is demonstrably false,” he said. “There are much harder questions that could be thrown, like what is the origin of evil? ‘The Da Vinci Code’ doesn’t ask that.”


All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.