Controversial Prophet Muhammad Film 'The Message' to Become First Arab Title to Get Saudi Release

Courtesy of Trancas International
'The Message'

After a 42-year ban, Anthony Quinn starrer 'The Message' has been approved by Middle East censors.

A 4K restored edition of The Message, Moustapha Akkad's controversial 1975 film chronicling the life and times of the Prophet Muhammad, is set to become the first Arabic title to get a theatrical release in Saudi Arabia. 

The historical epic was initially banned in Arab territories, encountering opposition from authorities and forcing the crew to move to Morocco and re-create model cities of Mecca and Medina for the shoot. During its release it also faced heavy backlash and theatrical banning in most Middle Eastern territories.

In the U.S., the film’s theatrical release was suspended after an extremist group staged a siege in Washington, D.C., after it was mistakenly believed that Anthony Quinn played the role of Prophet Muhammad on film. 

But the newly restored version of the film, which received its world premiere at the Dubai International Film Festival, is now due to travel across the region in time for the Eid holidays on June 14, with Trancas International and local distributors Front Row Filmed Entertainment having signed a deal.

After the successful DIFF premiere, Malek Akkad, son of director Akkad, and Front Row managing director Gianluca Chakra spearheaded a campaign to secure a wide theatrical release for The Message across the entire region. Chakra and Akkad pressed the issue to censor boards in the GCC, Egypt, Morocco, Iraq, Lebanon and Ethiopia with only Kuwait banning the film. However, in light of the approval from Saudi Arabia the film has been resubmitted in Kuwait in the hope the initial decision will be revoked.

The Message — which has long been a staple in Muslim households during Islamic holidays — marks one of the only films about the birth of Islam and its release could spark a renewed interest in making titles on the subject. The Message also marks Front Row's first theatrical release in the newly opened Saudi cinema market. 

"This was of utmost importance to us of course, given that the Kingdom is the cradle of Islam and The Message is one of the very few mainstream films that portrays the peaceful and tolerant tenets of the religion in an honest way, " said Chakra. "The Saudi authorities allowed the film to pass and this in turn opened the door to the rest of the region. In the burgeoning landscape of the Saudi cinema market, The Message release could be its most important film."

Front Row will also be handling distribution of the film across all pay TV and free TV platforms. 

"My father Moustapha didn’t have the chance to see [The Message's cinema release] fulfilled in his lifetime, but I know he would have been very proud," said Akkad. "This is a tribute to him. He wanted to share his love of this culture and the important lessons of Islam and The Message to everyone. Now, in a time when the world needs it most, his dream will come alive."