Netflix Arabic rom-com with 'gay and liberal' characters causes shockwave in Egypt
CAIRO – A recently launched Arabic adaptation of the popular rom-com 'Perfect Strangers' on Netflix has sparked a heated debate in Egypt between supporters of artistic freedom and ultraconservatives for allegedly "promoting homosexuality" and "portraying taboos".
Egyptian MP and journalist Mostafa Bakry claimed the film "violates" social and moral values in Egypt and the Arab world, calling for a ban on the Netflix streaming platform in the country.
"When I watch a film entailing more than 20 obscene words, a film that involves a father agreeing to his teenage daughter having sex with her boyfriend and criticising his wife's rejection as being regressive, I realise that the Egyptian and Arab families are targeted by such works," Bakry said on the 'El-Hekaya' talk show, broadcast on Saturday on MBC Misr.
'Perfect Strangers' ('Ashab Walla Aaz') is the first Arabic film produced by Netflix.
Released on 20 January, the film takes place in a single setting, telling the story of a group of friends who gather one evening to have dinner at a couple’s house in Lebanon and watch the lunar eclipse. They decide to play a risky game - to make the contents of their mobile phones accessible to one another, unveiling secrets and scandals.
Secrets are revealed one by one, unveiling a gay friend, an unfaithful husband, and other storylines that can be considered taboos.
In the movie, Zaki was seen in a controversial scene taking off her underwear, without revealing her body, and putting them into her handbag. The scene has sparked backlash in Egypt.
In another scene, while Zaki and her friends are opening up to each other, she accuses her husband of not being intimate with her for a whole year.
Egypt’s syndicate of acting professions has, in general, voiced support for the film and the Egyptian star of the film Zaki.
It called on critics to "respect the freedom of creativity" in the film industry.
"The syndicate will not stand idly by before any verbal assault or attempt to intimidate any Egyptian artist as a result of an artwork [s/he] contributed to," syndicate head Ashraf Zaki said on Monday.
Zaki added that the union supports all "authentic values" of Egyptian society.
Taboo issues, such as homosexuality, have been tackled in Egyptian cinema over the years and have led to controversy - among them the film The Yacoubian Building ("Emaret Yaacoubian") based on a novel written by award-winning writer Alaa Al-Aswany, considered among the best films in Egypt’s modern cinema history.