New Muhammad biopic drives the anti-Hollywood crowd nuts
England's the Guardian is reporting that Barrie Osborne, one of the producers of "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Matrix," is hoping to mount a biopic of the prophet Muhammad. Osborne says the film, which is being financed by a Qatar-based company, would feature English-speaking Muslim actors, although in keeping with Islamic law, it wouldn't actually depict the prophet on screen (which has got to be bad news for Tony Shalhoub, who'd normally be a shoo-in for the part). Osborne hopes the story of Muhammad would "educate people about the true meaning of Islam."
It all sounds perfectly respectful to me. But as usual, the news has aroused a storm of derision from conservative bloggers, who always find a way to be offended by any high-minded Hollywood project. Even though the film apparently hasn't been cast and isn't due to begin filming until 2011, Big Hollywood's John Nolte was in high dudgeon this morning, instantly drawing comparisons between the Muhammad project and Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," which Nolte complains was "turned down by every studio in town. You know, even though 70% of Americans identify themselves as Christians."
Nolte conveniently forgets that the prime reason why Hollywood studios kept their distance from "Passion of the Christ" was because the film was viewed by many as offering an anti-Semitic portrayal of Jews, not because anyone had a lack of regard for Christians. Also worth noting: Osborne is a prominent indie producer, meaning he doesn't have the promise of any studio backing for his project. So it's likely -- if the movie is ever made -- that he would have just as hard a time as Gibson in getting any studio backing for the Muhammad film
But according to Nolte, the possibility that an indie producer might make a respectful film about Muhammad is yet another sign of Hollywood's contempt for Christianity. Or as he puts it:
"[It's] another example of the mindset of those who control the most powerful propaganda machine ever created. Think about it: 'The Passion' remains one of the most profitable films ever and yet an industry frequently ridiculed for reproducing ad nauseum [sic] anything resembling a hit will have none of it....Please don't make the mistake of accusing Hollywood of hypocrisy. This is an ideological war and there are no rules in war and anyone wringing their hands over 'not playing fair' are missing the point. When you loath [sic] Christians and want to do everything in your power to marginalize who they are and what they stand for, there's nothing at all hypocritical about pissing on Christ and deferring to Muhammad."
I admire Nolte's passion, but I can't say that he's made much of a case. I mean, just because Hollywood shied away from promoting "Passion of the Christ" doesn't necessarily mean that we're in the midst of an "ideological war" against Christianity. In fact, I'd be happy to get Nolte invited to an advance screening of "The Blind Side," a wonderful new film by John Lee Hancock that Warner Bros. is releasing later this month. It tells the real-life story of a wealthy Memphis woman -- played by Sandra Bullock -- whose family takes in a homeless African American boy, feeds him, clothes him and helps him make it through school. He turns out to be a phenomenally successful football player who's now playing in the NFL.
The family are devoted Christians (and die-hard Republicans too, John), yet they are portrayed with the utmost warmth and respect for their selflessness and commitment to sharing their good fortune with others. If this is another example of Hollywood's ideological war against Christianity, then maybe someone should remind both sides what they are fighting about.
Photo: Barrie Osborne. Credit: John McDermott / For the Los Angeles Times.