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Even as he sits in jail, with his family in hiding, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula stands behind the mysterious, amateurish film that sparked bloody protests across the world.
“I thought, before I wrote this script,” the shadowy figure behind Innocence of Muslims told The New York Times, “that I should burn myself in a public square to let the American people and the people of the world know this message that I believe in.”
Instead, effigies and diplomatic relations across the Middle East were burned when the 14-minute trailer for the film was placed on YouTube. It led to a frantic search for a man thought to be named Sam Bacile, which turned out to be a pseudonym for Nakoula, who is a Coptic Christian who was born in Egypt and emigrated to the United States in 1986.
The Times conducted a written Q&A with Nakoula, who is in prison for violating his probation; he was arrested during production of the film for bank fraud, serving 21 months in prison and spending much of it working on his script. The Times describes him as “a former gas station manager, bong salesman, methamphetamine ingredient supplier and convicted con man,” and he had previously been arrested for dealing meth supplies (he performed community service). He is not said to be a particularly religious man, but grew angry at Muslims after various terrorist attacks throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s.
The film, which tells a radical version of the beginnings of Islam, was said to have been made for $5 million, funded by donors, but is thought to cost just $80,000. As previously reported, actors were fooled into participating in the film — they thought they were starring in a more generic epic called Dessert Warrior, and the name George was later redubbed with Muhammad to turn the story into a religious hit piece.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, one of the actresses, Cindy Lee Garcia, said “The actors were deceived. My voice was dubbed, and it wasn’t even my voice. I had no idea he did that until the trailer came out. My only part was the role of a mother talking to her husband, her daughter and this man named Master George. I have the full script of what I said. They were saying, ‘Praise God, praise God,’ because my daughter was going to be given in marriage to this man called Master George by my husband, so I mocked him for worshipping this man. They dubbed ‘Master George’ to say ‘Muhammad.'”
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