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SAUDI ARABIA: Banished from the kingdoms

Kingdom2 Director Peter Berg's "The Kingdom," a star-studded Hollywood blockbuster set in Saudi Arabia, has been banned from the screens of at least three Persian Gulf kingdoms.

Puritanical Saudi Arabia, where most of the film's story unfolds, doesn't allow any movie theaters. But other Gulf states have given the film a big thumbs-down. News agencies report that Kuwaiti censors have banished the film from the nation's screens. Even libertine Bahrain's Ministry of Information has barred the action-packed thriller.

"The movie, 'The Kingdom,' was banned from cinemas here because it is not in conformity with the censorship laws of the Kingdom of Bahrain," said an official at Bahrain’s Ministry of Information, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Released this month in the Middle East, "The Kingdom" tells the tale of a group of federal agents who fly to the Persian Gulf to track down the terrorist who is the mastermind behind the killing of American oil workers and their families in Riyadh.

Much of the the movie was filmed in the Persian Gulf city of Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, which, along with Qatar, has allowed the movie to show in cinemas.

Starring Oscar winners Jamie Foxx and Chris Cooper, along with "Alias" star Jennifer Garner, the film has proved a fairly big hit in the Arab world. It strives hard to sensitively depict daily life in the oil-rich, religiously conservative Gulf.  It adheres to a standard buddy-cop formula. Foxx and his team of no-nonsense G-men first resent then team up with and befriend a hardworking and talented Saudi cop. (It wouldn't be much of a spoiler to reveal who gets killed at the end of the movie.)

But perhaps the film's suggestion that extremists have infiltrated Saudi security forces rankled Gulf censors. 

"The film vilifies a brotherly country, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia," the Bahraini official said in a phone conversation from Manama. "It attempts to show Saudi Arabia as a country that supports terrorism or helps propagate it."

All films shown in Bahrain must be screened by the Information Ministry before being allowed in movie theaters, and quite a few get barred. "Many films shown in Europe and the U.S. do not conform with the nature of societies and culture in Bahrain," he said.

— Borzou Daragahi and Raed Rafei in Beirut

Photo: From left to right, Agent Janet Mayes (Jennifer Garner), Saudi police Sergeant Haytham (Ali Suliman), Agent Ronald Fleury (Jamie Foxx) and Agent Grant Sykes (Chris Cooper) duck for cover in "The Kingdom," which won't be getting any theater play in several kingdoms of the Persian Gulf. Credit: Universal Pictures

Comments () | Archives (2)

Great comment Stephen... thanks!

I have to say I enjoyed both the movie and the above comment in equal measure!



I offer the following comments as personal contributions, and they are independent, unrelated, and unaffiliated with my present employer.

1. Mr. Berg's recent film, The Kingdom, is basically a "CSI Riyadh" semi-thriller and a "shoot-up all the non-white characters" action flick.

2. This film disparages the Saudis, their culture, and the Saudi organizations for public safety/national security, and the film also aims to "get in the face" of every official organization depicted, including the US Department of State and the FBI. (BTW, there is no way an FBI Special Agent, as a field operative, would gain access to an ambassador, much less have the standing and authority to convey the coercive threat shown in the film to gain access to enter the kingdom).

3. The film is also loaded with numerous nonsensical and inaccurate items that audiences tend to overlook as the story line unfolds.

One puzzler, or howler, is how the FBI team suddenly became armed with US M-16 assault rifles and plentiful ammunition (which both are not found in Saudi Arabia) before the scene with the climactic shoot-out, especially after the team's Saudi police officer meeter-and-greeter had relieved them of their weapons when they first arrive in the kingdom.

The casting of a female as a FBI forensics specialist who must operate publicly in a Moslem host culture is either a profoundly-dumb or arrogantly-sardonic decision.

4. The FBI agents assigned to US Embassy Riyadh (I was assigned there as a military attache during Gulf War I, 1990-1991) as Legal Attaches have a hard enough time defending and representing the Bureau overseas.

Disclosure: Last year, I reviewed the original pre-production script and commented on a range of "ground truth" matters of accuracy and cultural coherence. The final script portrayed in the film is less egregious and vindictive than that earlier version.


Stephen H. Franke
Chief Trainer, Intelligence
Saudi Arabian National Guard Modernization Program
Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia


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