Egyptian censors say 'no' to the new Exodus blockbuster

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Aaron Schachter: If you’re looking for something really epic this holiday season, well it just doesn’t get much more epic than the Old Testament and the book of Exodus is on the big screen. Ridley Scott’s take on the biblical story of Moses is called “Exodus: Gods and Kings” and it’s got it all: plagues, the part of the Red Sea, and Christian Bale, who plays you-know-who. But the film has run into some trouble and here with me in the studio to talk about it is The World’s Matthew Bell. Matthew, what is going on?


Matthew Bell: Well, Egypt, of course, is where all the action in the book of Exodus takes place in the Bible and in the movie, and the Ministry of Culture just decided yesterday that they will ban this film because of “historical inaccuracies.”


Schachter: Have they been any more specific about what those inaccuracies are?


Bell: They have. The Minister of Culture has been quoted saying that there are a few problems that they had with the film. One is the depiction of Jews building the Pyramids--these are cultural icons in Egypt; also, the depiction of Moses himself as a warrior in the movie instead of as a prophet; and finally that Egyptians were brutal slave owners. The minister was quoted as saying that this is a Zionist view of history and it’s not accurate, the film will be banned.


Schachter: Isn’t that all in the Bible? How surprising is this?


Bell: Not entirely surprising, that is because Egypt is a very conservative, religious country. Something like 90% of the population are Muslims and in Islam there’s a belief that none of the prophets should ever be depicted in their human form in any art form, like a painting or a film like this. So, a lot of people expected the film to be banned in Egypt. In fact, earlier this year there was another film, “Noah,” you might remember, with Russell Crowe--that was banned for the same reason. The country of Morocco also appears to have banned the “Exodus” movie as well, though the government has not made an announcement on a formal ban there. But it seems that theaters are not showing it and the understanding is it’s for similar reasons. It’s interesting that films in the West also have been banned at times on religious grounds. Here’s a clip from one of my favorites ever, see if you can guess it.


Schachter: So, you’re telling me that “Life of Brian” was banned?


Bell: It was. The 1979 film was banned for 8 years in Ireland, it was banned for a full year in Norway. That was then used as sort of a marketing gimmick, where they said “So funny that it was banned in Norway.”


Schachter: Any other movies in the West that were banned for religious reasons?


Bell: I came across an interesting one that I had never heard of before: an 18-minute low budget art film put out in 1989 called “Visions of Ecstasy.” I imagine that we would have never heard of this film had it not been banned under blasphemy laws in Britain, which were on the books in that country right up until 2008.


Schachter: One man’s art is another man’s blasphemy I guess.


Bell: Exactly.


Schachter: The World’s Matthew Bell is reporting for us on religion. Thanks, as always, for checking in.


Bell: Thanks Aaron.