Not many people know that 'The Message' was quite probably one the hardest movies to film in the cinematic history of the Middle East. They weren’t only facing religious struggles, but monetary issues.
Along with that, there was a huge ordeal in which they had to relocate the entire shoot from Morocco to Libya, following religious groups that had forced the Moroccan government to shut down filming. The Message was practically banned throughout the entire Middle-East region. There’s a possibility that it was distributed at a few theaters in Lebanon, but the true man that embraced it was the great King Hussein of Jordan.
When I asked the humble producer why he thought that 'The Message' had caused so much controversy in the Arab world, Malek expressed how strongly the Muslim community felt about portraying the Prophet Muhammad’s story. “To be honest, I think a lot of people feared what he was doing. I mean here’s this guy [Moustapha Akkad] that just takes it upon himself to say, ‘I’m going to tell this story’, and then he’s suddenly in Morocco building a Kaaba shooting the story of the genesis of Islam. So there was definitely a sense of fear from Muslims concerning the portrayal of their religion, which is so dear to them.”
But with all the current connotations in the West regarding Islam, would they be prepared for a Muslim protagonist in Hollywood, especially during a time in which the East and West are moments away from a third world war?
Malek sure hopes so. “With my father’s initial intention of bridging the gap between the two worlds, it is something I hope they would. For me, the beauty of the world lies in the differences in the world. It’s all about knowing one another and understanding one another. Islam is a religion that consists of a third of the world’s population, and the West should want to understand them, and I hope they will.”
Although Malek made it clear what his dad was doing, one question continued to linger in my mind: Why did his dad decide to make the message?
Malek quickly replied, “He was always proud of his heritage, and he wanted to share this movie as an educational tool for the world. When my father first arrived in the states in the 50’s, he could see that Americans didn’t really have an idea on what the Middle-East nor Islam were really about... There was definitely an ignorance there, and so he held workshops and townhalls, in which he would explain the Arab world, and that’s what my upcoming documentary, 'Not Without Nerve,' is going to focus on.”
So not only was Malek restoring a Hollywood classic, but was also writing and directing a documentary on the making of it, which would be released in less than two weeks. Malek had become the messenger.
“There is just such an amazing story behind the production of this movie that I felt needed to be told… It will follow my father from the moment he first got the idea of making the film until the moment he wrapped… It’s going to be examined in a way that will be interesting for filmmakers and westerners, and hopefully that will get them to want to watch The Message.”
Malek added how cathartic of an experience it was filming the documentary: “I got so much closer to him and re-confirmed what I already knew- he was a man of humility that never got the least bit angry on set and it was such a fantastic journey interviewing people who actually lived through it.”
But with the restoration of the movie, what was the message of The Message now, compared to when it was released?
“The message remains the message of Moustapha Akkad. It’s all about sharing his culture and his beliefs with the world, and what I’m doing [as a son] is ensuring that his film is remembered for its place in cinematic history.”
Part 2 by Hayder Al-Shakarchi
© 2000 - 2021 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)