Two days before Messiah is to debut on Netflix around the world, The Royal Film Commission of Jordan has requested that the provocative drama is not shown in the predominantly Muslim country. The Jordanian government organization’s Managing Director, Mohannad al-Bakr, held a press conference with local media Monday in Amman to make the announcement, which also was posted on the RFC’s Web site.
“Having been made aware of its content, the RFC has asked officially the management of Netflix to refrain from streaming it in Jordan,” the commission’s statement read.
A spokesperson for Netflix indicated that they have not received a formal legal request to remove the series from the streamer’s Jordanian service.
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Created by Michael Petroni and produced by The Bible‘s Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, Messiah explores the lines among religion, faith and politics. When a CIA officer investigates a man — referred to by some as Al-Masih (Mehdi Dehbi) — attracting international attention and followers through acts of public disruption, she embarks on a global, high-stakes mission to uncover whether he is a divine entity or a deceptive con artist.
“Messiah is a work of fiction,” a Netflix spokesperson said in a statement to Deadline. “It is not based on any one character, figure or religion. All Netflix shows feature ratings and information to help members make their own decisions about what’s right for them and their families.”
The RFC’s announcement represents an about-face for the organization. Its statement acknowledges that Messiah was partially shot in the Kingdom in 2018. According to sources, the RFC had reviewed synopses for the series’ episodes before approving the shoot and granting the show tax credit.
“The story is purely fictional and so are the characters,” the commission said today. “Yet, the RFC deems that the content of the series could be largely perceived or interpreted as infringing on the sanctity of religion, thus possibly contravening the laws in the country.”
“While still standing firmly by its principles, notably the respect of creative freedom, the RFC – as a public and responsible institution – cannot condone or ignore messages that infringe on the Kingdom’s basic laws.”
Messiah could have far-reaching impact on filming in Jordan.
“For the last few months, the Board of the RFC has worked to reassess its policies and has reached the conclusion that it will change its policy with regard to productions shooting in Jordan, by making sure the content doesn’t breach the laws of the country,” the RFC said.
The Messiah trailer, released earlier this month, sparked controversy over the name al-Masih, prompting a change.org petition urging a boycott of the series. It has not received a wide support, garnering just over 4,000 signatures so far. Also raising eyebrows in the Middle East is a scene in the series involving shooting on Jerusalem’s sacred Temple Mount.
“Yes it’s provocative — the show is provocative,” Petroni told AFP earlier this month in response to the controversy. “But provocative isn’t offensive.”
The first (mixed) reviews for Messiah appear to support that notion.
“Despite concerns that it would be anti-Muslim based on the trailer, the series leaves the audience guessing throughout about whether the mysterious figure referred to by some as Al-Masih (Belgian actor Mehdi Dehbi), or Arabic for “the messiah,” is really who people believe him to be, or some sort of false prophet and con artist,” the CNN review says.
Netflix plans to release Messiah, co-starring Michelle Monaghan, John Ortiz and Tomer Sisley, on Wednesday as planned.
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