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Indonesia joined several Middle Eastern countries Monday, banning Darren Aronofsky‘s biblical epic Noah over concerns that it violates Islamic law.
The county’s censorship board decided in a unanimous vote to forbid the release of the Paramount film, which was due out locally on Friday, because of its depiction of a prophet — a grave taboo in Muslim societies. Noah is a prophet for Muslims, as well as a Christian figure. More than 88 percent of Indonesia’s 240 million people are Muslim.
A dark telling of the biblical story of Noah’s Ark, the film features Russell Crowe as its Sharia law-violating protagonist.
“We rejected the screening of the film in Indonesia,” Zainut Tauhid Saadi, a member of the Indonesian Censorship Board, told AFP.
“The visual depiction of a prophet is forbidden in Islam,” he said, adding: “The film will hurt both Christian and Muslim communities.”
Speaking with THR at the Hong Kong screen industry convention, Filmart, Chand Parwez Servia, president of Indonesian film company PT. Kharisma, said he didn’t find the decision surprising in light of the country’s upcoming legislative elections on Apr. 9.
“I think they are just being careful — no one wants a controversy that can be used against them by a rival party,” said Servia. “And other Muslim countries have already done the same.”
Earlier in March censorship boards in Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates informed Paramount that they would not allow the release of the film. Similar rulings are expected in Egypt, Jordan and Kuwait, according to studio insiders.
In Egypt, the leading Sunni Muslim institute Al-Azhar issued a statement condemning the movie, saying it should be banned there too.
The film has taken some criticism from Christian groups in the U.S. for its dark and unconventional take on the story, but it also opened strong in Christian-majority Mexico, grossing $1.4 million from 635 locations on its opening last Friday — on par with Gravity, and 50 percent ahead of James Bond pic Skyfall. The film opens in North America and 20 other markets this coming Friday.
Noah co-stars Anthony Hopkins, Emma Watson and Jennifer Connelly.
Rapidly developing Indonesia remains woefully under-screened — the country has just one movie screen for every 357,000 people, compared with one screen for every 25,000 residents in nearby Singapore — so the local censorship won’t hit Paramount too hard. But the territory is expected to eventually emerge as a major consumer of international entertainment content.
Indonesia has a population of 240 million — not far behind the United States’ 313 million — and the country’s remarkably youthful demographics are also encouraging to forecasters, given the way moviegoers the world over skew young. More than 60 percent of Indonesia’s population is younger than 39, and 50 percent is younger than 29.
Formerly held back by the monopolistic dominance of local company Cinema 21, Indonesia’s cinema sector was recently got a jolt of healthy competition with the entry of local conglomerate Lippo Group, which plans to open 1,000 more screens over the next five years. Cinema 21 had controlled 90 percent or more of Indonesian cinemas since the 1960s Suharto era.
On Tuesday, Lippo Group announced that its exhibition subsidiary Cinemaxx has committed to installing Dolby Atmos in 100 cinema screens over the next three or more years, with 30 of the 100 screens scheduled to be launched by the end of May 2015.
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