This picture taken on January 23, 2022 in Cairo shows a laptop displaying a scene from the Netflix-produced pan-Arab film “Ashab wala Aaz” depicting Lebanese actors Adel Karam and Diamand Bou Abboud. (AFP)
CAIRO: Netflix’s first Arabic film production was always set to be a big event, but within days of its release, public opinion in Egypt was so inflamed that critics called for a ban on the platform.
“Ashab wala Aaz” — one of countless remakes of the Italian comedy-drama “Perfetti Sconosciutti” (Perfect Strangers) — features renowned actors from Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan.
The movie is about a group of friends meeting for dinner and deciding to make the night more interesting by agreeing to share every text message, email and phone call received with the rest of the group.
As events unfold, the game reveals shocking truths about members of the group as it touches on topics from adultery and premarital sex to homosexuality, all widely considered taboos in Egypt.
The film, which was released on January 20, immediately shot up to the most-watched list in Egypt.
But in the ensuing fracas, lawsuits have been filed against the culture ministry and the censor’s office for allowing the film to be streamed, and MPs have called for a special session to discuss whether to ban Netflix altogether.
Online, many slammed celebrated Egyptian actress Mona Zaki, who took part in what they dubbed a “disgraceful” movie.
Amid the storm, the US streaming giant has refrained from commenting.
Lawmaker Mostafa Bakry argued Netflix should be banned altogether as he called for an urgent meeting in parliament to discuss it.
Premarital sex is also taboo in Egypt, where in extreme cases it may provoke “honour killings”, especially in rural areas.
“This network targets Egyptian and Arab citizens … we should ban Netflix,” Bakri said in an interview with a private TV channel.
He said the film includes “more than 20 suggestive profanities which shocked Egyptian families”.
Netflix rated the one-and-a-half hour long feature as not suitable for those under 16 years old, though it did not include any nudity or sex scenes.
Egyptian film critic Tarek Shennawy said he was “surprised” at the attack on actress Mona Zaki.
Zaki, who played the part of a wife trapped in an unsatisfying marriage, was particularly criticised for a scene in which she removes her underwear from under her dress.
On social media, many viewed the scene as a source of shame for her husband — renowned actor Ahmed Helmi — and their daughter.
“How did Ahmed Helmi allow his wife to play this part in the movie,” one user asked on Twitter.
Another questioned how Zaki “was not afraid for her daughter to see her this bold”.
But Shennawy argued that “the movie’s content should not affect the personal or national honour of those who took part in it”.
“We are confusing fiction with reality and this is very weird.”