Ben-Hur news round-up: Censorship woes in Malaysia

Ben-Hur news round-up: Censorship woes in Malaysia September 22, 2016

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Just one or two quick items about the new Ben-Hur, which is still rolling out overseas.

The film ranked 28th at the North American box office last weekend.

The Christian Examiner reports that the Jesus scenes were deleted in Malaysia:

Just who ordered the deletion of the scenes featuring Jesus is somewhat of a mystery. The chairman of the country’s Film Censorship Board (LPF), Datuk Abdul Halim, said he did not recall seeing any scenes featuring Christ in the version of the film submitted for review by the board. He also insisted that the board did not know if scenes were cut and who cut them.

“Maybe, but not by us; probably by producers when they sent the film to Malaysia, they already cut the scenes. They know (there’s) some sensitivities,” Halim told the Malay Mail Online.

That move would be highly unusual for the film’s producers, Roma Downey and Mark Burnett, who were also behind the mini-series, The Bible. Their goal, they said, was to introduce the idea of divine forgiveness to viewers in the film.

“Woven into the fabric of it is the story of faith,” Downey said before the film’s release this summer. “It is because [Judah Ben-Hur] has an encounter with Jesus Christ that Judah’s heart is open. There, at the foot of the cross, we see his hardness drop away.”

Now, however, those scenes are gone and the film is 11 minutes shorter than its runtime in the West. That upset many fans who went to see the film. They soon went online to raise questions about how the character of Christ and His actions, central to the plot, could be removed.

Malaysia is an officially Sunni Muslim country. While Shi’ite Islam does permit visual depictions of the “prophets” — hence all the movies about Jesus, Joseph, Abraham and others that have been produced in Shi’ite Iran — Sunni Islam generally forbids it, and efforts to make movies about Jesus in countries like Egypt have generally run into fierce opposition. So it’s not surprising that this film was censored in Malaysia.

Ben-Hur is almost finished its international rollout. The film comes to Italy next week, to Indonesia and China in October (what sort of censorship issues will there be in those countries, I wonder; Indonesia is majority Muslim, and China has banned films like Noah altogether for their religious content), and to Japan in January.

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