TOMORROW, despite pre-screening rumblings of discontent among Muslims and some Christians, Netflix will start streaming Messiah, a series about a mysterious figure – Al-Masih, played by Belgian actor Mehdi Dehbi, above – who may be ‘a divine entity’ … or simply a charlatan.
But according to an on-line petition, Al-Masih is, in fact, the Muslim version of the antiChrist.
Against this background of mounting controversy, it’s reported here that the Royal Film Commission of Jordan has asked Netflix not to stream the drama in the predominantly Muslim country. The Jordanian government organisation’s Managing Director, Mohannad al-Bakr, held a press conference with local media yesterday (Monday) in Amman warn that it:
Cannot condone or ignore messages that infringe on the Kingdom’s basic laws.
The RFC’s announcement represents an about-face for the organisation. Its statement acknowledges that Messiah was partially shot in the Kingdom in 2018, and that, after it had reviewed synopses for the series’ episodes, it approved the shoot and granted the show a tax credit.
The commission said:
The story is purely fictional and so are the characters. 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.
A spokesperson for Netflix indicated that they have not received a formal legal request to remove the series from the streamer’s Jordanian service.
Created by Michael Petroni and produced by Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, Messiah explores religion, faith and politics. When a CIA officer investigates Al-Masih who begins 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.
A Netflix spokesperson said in a statement:
Messiah is a work of fiction. 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.
Jordan’s entertainments watchdog also said that it was reviewing its policies regarding filming in the country:
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 Messiah trailer, released earlier this month immediately sparked controversy. According to the petition launched by one Zeynaba Dahir:
Viewers will immediately be able to notice that it is based on Islamic descriptions of the coming of Dajjal [the Deceiver or antiChrist].
Can we really allow our money to be used in the production of evil content like this? with your participation join me in boycotting Netflix.
How can we knowingly allow our money to go here rather than better causes?
You may say it is a non-issue, it’s just a series. But this slow exposure of evil and anti-Islamic propaganda will slowly turn hearts. Muslims are not just the only ones that believe in the Antichrist. This topic is rather sensitive and making a production like this will only have viewers forgetting the fact that this matter is not a joke.
So far a grant total of just over 4,000 have signed the petition.
Earlier this month Petroni told AFP:
Yes it’s provocative – the show is provocative. But provocative isn’t offensive.
The first (mixed) reviews for Messiah appear to support that notion. the CNN review says:
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 or Arabic for ‘the messiah’, is really who people believe him to be, or some sort of false prophet and con artist.