Netflix meets outrage in Egypt with risque comedy-drama
Netflix’s first Arabic film production was always set to be a big event, but within days of its release, public opinion in Egypt was so inflamed that critics called for a ban on the platform.
“Ashab wala Aaz,” one of countless remakes of the Italian comedy-drama “Perfetti Sconosciutti” (Perfect Strangers), features renowned actors from Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan.
The movie is about a group of friends meeting for dinner and deciding to make the night more interesting by agreeing to share every text message, email and phone call received with the rest of the group.
As events unfold, the game reveals shocking truths about members of the group as it touches on topics from adultery and premarital sex to homosexuality, all widely considered taboos in Egypt.
The film, which was released on Jan. 20, immediately shot up to the most-watched list in Egypt. But in the ensuing fracas, lawsuits have been filed against the culture ministry and the censor’s office for allowing the film to be streamed, and MPs have called for a special session to discuss whether to ban Netflix altogether.
Online, many slammed celebrated Egyptian actress Mona Zaki, who took part in what they dubbed a “disgraceful” movie.
One lawyer argued that the film “promotes homosexuality” while another said it seeks to “destroy family values” as part of a “systematic war on the morals” of Egyptian society.
While homosexuality is not expressly outlawed in Egypt, it is often punished under loosely worded laws prohibiting “debauchery.”
Moreover, discrimination against the LGBT community is widespread in the deeply conservative and religious society.
Lawmaker Mostafa Bakry argued Netflix should be banned altogether as he called for an urgent meeting in parliament to discuss it.
He particularly lambasted a scene in which one of the actors, who was playing a father to a teenage girl, discussed with his daughter her first sexual encounter.
“This network targets Egyptian and Arab citizens ... we should ban Netflix,” Bakri said in an interview with a private TV channel.
He said the film includes “more than 20 suggestive profanities which shocked Egyptian families.”
Netflix rated the one-and-a-half hour long feature as not suitable for those under 16 years old, though it did not include any nudity or sex scenes.