Controversial 1976 epic The Message, about the life of the Prophet Muhammad and the birth of Islam, will be the first Arab film to get a commercial cinema screening in Saudi Arabia.
The Oscar-nominated film by Syrian-American director and producer Moustapha Akkad was last week cleared by the censorship board and will be screened in a restored 4K version.
In the 1970’s, the film provoked controversy and was banned from release in a number of Arab countries. The planned distribution in the U.S. sparked a terror incident resulting in the deaths of a journalist and a policeman.
The film’s restoration has been a long-time passion project for Akkad’s son, Malek Akkad, producer of the upcoming Halloween sequel. His father had began work on the film in 1974, shooting two versions simultaneously — one in Arabic and one in English. The Arabic version featured some of the biggest stars of Arab cinema, including Abdullah Gaith in the lead role of Hamza. In the English version, the role of Hamza was played by Anthony Quinn.
Some of the controversy around the film was based on the mistaken belief that Anthony Quinn played Muhammad but in accordance with Islamic beliefs, Muhammad was not be depicted on screen nor was his voice heard. The film, which got an Oscar-nomination for Maurice Jarre’s score, is regularly shown on TV in the Middle East.
The Message will screen at the Vox Cinemas Riyadh Park on the religious holiday of Eid-ul-Fitr later this week and is expected to get a wider release across the Arab world, except in Kuwait which has upheld the ban. The re-release has been arranged by Akkad’s Trancas International and Dubai-based distribution outfit Front Row Filmed Entertainment.
Front Row’s chief Gianluca Chakra told us he doesn’t anticipate any issues around the film’s re-release in the region and that he is also in negotiation with additional international territories to take on the restoration.