Cineworld and Vue pull film on Prophet Muhammad’s daughter after protesters brand it ‘blasphemous’ 


Cineworld and Vue pull £12m film on Prophet Muhammad’s daughter after hundreds of Muslim protesters picketed theatres and branded it ‘blasphemous’ over Islamic history ‘inaccuracies’

  • The release of The Lady of Heaven, a £12m historical drama, has prompted outrage among some Muslims 
  • It is billed as depicting the life of Lady Fatima, who is one of the daughters of the Prophet Muhammad
  • Protesters have gathered outside cinemas in Sheffield, Bolton and Birmingham that were showing the film 
  • Cineworld pulled the film after four days of protests saying it was to ‘ensure the safety’ of staff and customers

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Cinema chains in the UK have pulled a film about the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad after outcry from protesters who picketed theatres and branded it ‘blasphemous’.

Hundreds of demonstrators have turned out in Bradford, Bolton, Birmingham and Sheffield to protest theatres showing screenings of The Lady of Heaven.

The movie was released in the UK over the Jubilee weekend but has been pulled after Cineworld and Vue caved to the demands of protesters to stop showing the film after four days of protests.

One video appears to show a manager at one cinema addressing a crowd confirming the film has been pulled, prompting cries of ‘Allahu Akbar’.

The movie’s executive producer, Malik Shlibak, called the decision to pull the move ‘unacceptable’ and accused the chains of ‘bowing down to radical extremists’.

Cinemas have seen days of protests from Muslims claiming the new film The Lady of Heaven is 'blasphemous'. Pictured are protesters outside the Cineworld in Birmingham on Sunday, June 5

Cinemas have seen days of protests from Muslims claiming the new film The Lady of Heaven is ‘blasphemous’. Pictured are protesters outside the Cineworld in Birmingham on Sunday, June 5 

Some cinemas have made the decision to pull the film from theatres following the backlash. Pictured are protesters outside the Cineworld in Birmingham on Sunday, June 5

Some cinemas have made the decision to pull the film from theatres following the backlash. Pictured are protesters outside the Cineworld in Birmingham on Sunday, June 5

Protesters gathered outside cinemas to voice their opposition to the film, which was officially released in the UK on June 3. Pictured are protesters outside the Cineworld in Birmingham on Sunday, June 5

Cineworld has said it has cancelled all showings of the film nationwide ‘to ensure the safety of our staff and customers’. Pictured are protesters outside the Cineworld in Birmingham on Sunday, June 5

The people behind The Lady of Heaven

Eli King 

The director of the film, Eli King has no previous movie credits to his name.

He has not done any interviews prior to the film’s release, and keeps an under the radar profile. 

Producer Malik Shlibak said they landed on King after meeting with a lot of directors. 

He told Deadline: ‘The majority of the British ones I would say, many of them were very interested, but felt the subject may have been too complex, but we were very lucky at the end.’

Malik Shlibak 

Based in London, the executive producer has hit back at criticism and accused cinemas of caving to ‘extremists’ by pulling the film.

On Twitter he wrote: ‘While I vehemently disagree with what these protestors stand for (death of free speech), I wholeheartedly thank them for the free publicity, we’re already seeing an absolute flood of new audience who had never heard of our film.’

Speaking last year he said the film had gone to great lengths not to offend Muslims, adding that he was aware the movie was including characters that are ‘very holy for close to two billion people’.

Hussein Ashmere

One of the producers on the film, Ashmere said he hoped the film would educate audiences. 

Speaking to Deadline last year, he said while it was ‘an emotional film’ it would also be informative for people unfamiliar with the story of Lady Fatima. 

‘It’s all factually correct, so this is one thing I want to reiterate,’ he said. 

‘We spent meticulous time on this particular subject. We wanted to make sure we wrapped this up very well.’

Sheikh al-Habib 

The film’s writer, Sheikh al-Habib is a Kuwaiti Shia scholar based in London.

He was previously imprisoned in the Middle Eastern country and was granted asylum in the UK.

He has previously angered Sunni Muslims by calling Aisha, the third wife of the Prophet Muhammad, ‘an enemy of God’. 

The film’s producer Malik Shlibak described him as ‘a brilliant mind, an intellectual, an academic, a scholar, a historian’.

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The film features former Coronation Street actor Ray Fearon and was shown at the Cannes Film Festival last year, but was only released in the UK for the first time on June 3, this year. 

Made in Britain for £12million, the film opens with the invasion of Iraq by ISIS and features a graphic jihadist murder, before telling the story of Lady Fatima, one of the daughters of the founder of Islam.

Islamic tradition forbids the direct portrayal of religious figures, with previous depictions of prophets leading to protests and even murders amid accusations of blasphemy. 

Director Eli King depicts Fatima as a faceless character, shrouded by a black veil to avoid doing this.

But protestors have accused film makers of inaccurately depicting religious history and negatively portraying three of Islam’s most important figures.

And other critics claim negative characters were portrayed by black actors, which they say ‘stems from the racial bias against darker skinned people’.

Those who came out to protest screenings on Monday said they were ‘offended’ by the film and the way it illustrated the life of revered religious figures.

One protester in Bradford, West Yorkshire, said: ‘We are very offended. We have a right not to be insulted.

‘You talk about freedom of speech but where does your freedom of speech go when it goes to criticising your policies, when it goes to making critical analysis of your version of history.

‘You have no right to tell us our history. We will not let this film go on further.’

Others carried signs saying: ‘It’s not ok to offend 1.8 billion #handsoffoursuperheroes’ and ‘Stop the screening’, while using megaphones to get across their message.

In Bolton, the local chairman of the Council of Mosques, Asif Patel, wrote a letter to his local branch of Cineworld, where he called the film ‘blasphemous’.

He said: ‘You many well be aware of the recently released film ‘Lady of Heaven’ which has caused much distress to Muslims across the globe.

‘It is underpinned with a sectarian ideology and is blasphemous in nature to the Muslim community.

‘It grossly disrespects the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in many ways and is deeply disturbing to every Muslim.

‘It also misrepresents orthodox historical narratives and disrespects the most esteemed individuals of Islamic history.

‘The storyline begs the question to what extent the producers had considered the huge impact of this film upon the Muslim community and notions of sacredness dearly held by them.’

‘In Bolton, we are a very diverse community and are very respectful of each other’s culture and honour on community cohesion.’

A spokesperson from the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) called for ‘respectful dialogue’ between protesters and the film supporters.

Video on social media appears to show the manager of one cinema addressing a crowd of protesters who had gathered outside to picket the film

Video on social media appears to show the manager of one cinema addressing a crowd of protesters who had gathered outside to picket the film

They said: ‘The MCB, which proudly represents affiliates from across the different schools of thought in our faith, supports those scholars and leaders who are advocating for greater unity and for the common good, as commanded by our Holy Prophet (peace be upon him).

‘The MCB has always advocated for respectful dialogue of intra-faith relations.

‘There are some – including many of this film’s supporters or those engaging in sectarianism in their response – whose primary goal is to fuel hatred.

‘We must not let them succeed.’

But executive producer of the film Mr Shlibak called the decision to pull the film by the cinema chain ‘unacceptable’.

He said: ‘We think that the protests have brought a lot of new found attention to the film that did not exist before from people who hadn’t heard about the film, and we are okay with the fact that people protest.

‘But I believe it’s actually unacceptable in this country what they are calling for – that is the removal from this film from the cinemas due to them being offended.

‘That is something quite silly, because everyone has the ability to share their thoughts and enact their freedom of speech.

‘I genuinely believe from all sides, from the cinema perhaps from the Muslim Council of Britain, that there is this succumbing and bowing down to these radical extremists and their demands.

A poster for The Lady of Heaven, which has been pulled from cinemas in the UK after days of protests. One of the film's producers has hit out at the decision

A poster for The Lady of Heaven, which has been pulled from cinemas in the UK after days of protests. One of the film’s producers has hit out at the decision

‘I think this is more than The Lady of Heaven as an individual film, this is about our British values and how much these mean to us.

‘These groups have now been given the power to dictate what the British public can and cannot watch at their local cinemas.’

Following the protests, Cineworld in Bolton released a statement saying the film would be ‘pulled’ from the schedule.

A Cineworld spokesperson said: ‘Due to the protesting outside the Bolton Cineworld, we will be closing the cinema doors and only allowing those in with proof of ticket purchases.

‘We have pulled the film and it will no longer be showing at this cinema.’

Executive producer Malik Shlibak, pictured here at the Cannes Film Festival last year, blasted the decision to drop the film

Executive producer Malik Shlibak, pictured here at the Cannes Film Festival last year, blasted the decision to drop the film

Hussain Ashmere, Mehpe Al Hussaini, Jawad Salah and Malik Shlibak (pictured left to right) of Enlightened Kingdom, the company that produced the film, attend the premier of The Lady of Heaven at the Cannes Film Festival last year

Hussain Ashmere, Mehpe Al Hussaini, Jawad Salah and Malik Shlibak (pictured left to right) of Enlightened Kingdom, the company that produced the film, attend the premier of The Lady of Heaven at the Cannes Film Festival last year

It’s understood that other theatres in the Cineworld chain have now issued statements, with representative from the firm approached for comment.

A spokesperson from Cineworld said: ‘Due to recent incidents related to screenings of ‘The Lady of Heaven’, we have made the decision to cancel upcoming screenings of the film nationwide to ensure the safety of our staff and customers.’

A spokesperson for Vue said: ‘Vue takes seriously the responsibilities that come with providing a platform for a wide variety of content and believes in showcasing films of interest to diverse communities across the UK.

‘Vue will only show a film once the BBFC (the independent British Board of Film Classification) has assessed and rated a film. The Lady of Heaven has been BBFC accredited and is on show in a number of our cinemas.

‘Decisions about how long a film remains on show are taken on a site-by-site basis and based on a variety of commercial and operational factors.’

What the critics said

While the movie has prompted a strong response from Muslims, the critics have had a more lukewarm reaction to it. 

In its two-star review, The Guardian said while production values and sets look good, ‘half-baked performances’ and a lack of ‘poetic flair’ drag it down.

The Irish Times reacted slightly more warmly, giving it a three-star review, describing it as ‘rough around the edges throughout’, but ‘made with admirable gusto’.

The New York Times said the film is ‘appropriately spectacular’, but criticised the ‘shoddy script and an overwhelming reliance on cliches’ that make it feel cheap.

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