January 1st saw the release of the Netflix US drama series Messiah across the world – including the Middle East, where it received backlash and controversy, namely from Jordan’s Royal Film Commission, which is now trying to ban the show from streaming in the country.
Messiah tells the story of a seemingly mysterious man, played by Belgian-Tunisian actor Mehdi Dehbi, who claims to have been sent by a higher being (his father) to deliver a message, accumulating followers in the process. The show, however, focuses on the perspective of a CIA agent, played by American actress Michelle Monaghan, who investigates him. Much of the show’s pilot is set in Syria where the messiah first arrives, while the rest of the season is mostly set in the U.S. In the series, the messiah also reportedly aims to cross 2,000 Palestinian Syrians over the border of Israel.
Photo courtesy of Netflix.
Although the show was partially shot in Jordan, with the commission permitting filming in the country based on story synopses of the episodes, the RFC released a statement after the show’s release officially asking, after “having been made aware of [Messiah’s] content… to refrain from streaming it in Jordan.”
In response to the controversy and the claims of the Royal Commission of Jordan, Netflix explained: "Messiah is a work of fiction. It is not based on any one character, figure or religion." Creator Michael Petroni also told AFP, "Yes, it's provocative – the show is provocative. But provocative isn't offensive."
The Royal Commission's statement reads, “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,” it continues.
Beyond the RFC, 4,000 people had earlier petitioned to ban the show, claiming that it contains “anti-Islamic propaganda.” In addition, it was criticised in December after Arabic-speaking Twitter users pointed out that the plot twist and mystery that the show is premised on actually unravels in the character’s name, Al Massih Ad-Dajjal – which Muslims and Arabic speakers know because it comprises a core belief in Islamic eschatology that says that “Al Massih Ad-dajjal” is, literally, “the false Messiah, the deceiver” who will usher in the end of the world.
crying @ the fact that muslims figured out the twist ending of the netflix 'messiah' show b/c they LITERALLY NAMED THE CHARACTER DAJJAL pic.twitter.com/nLWWtxpKHL— idham (@frankoceanhafiz) December 5, 2019
One user had even commented, “goes to show you that English speakers also don’t look into the meaning or context of the concepts they use – that they borrow these concepts merely because they’re “exotic” to other English speakers, meant to entertain an audience of English speakers and probs no one else.”
goes to show you that english speakers also dont look into the meaning or context of the concepts they use - that they borrow these concepts merely because theyre "exotic" to other english speakers, meant to entertain an audience of english speakers and probs no one else.— donut (@LargeDonut) December 5, 2019
Last year, Jordan became the location for 26 TV series, 13 feature films and 93 shorts, marking a massive increase in TV and film productions in the country, both by local filmmakers and international. One of these productions included Jinn, the first original Jordanian Netflix production, which also garnered considerable backlash and accusations of being immoral and containing "lewd" scenes.