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Cineworld bans ‘blasphemous’ film

The Cineworld chain of cinemas has announced it has pulled all screenings of The Lady of Heaven following protests from Muslim groups claiming that the film contains ‘blasphemous’ content. Cineworld stated that this decision was made ‘to ensure the safety of [its] staff and customers.’ Humanists UK, which led the successful campaign to repeal the blasphemy laws in England and Wales over a decade ago, has expressed alarm at the news. The censorship runs counter to the fundamental principle of freedom of expression and sets a dangerous precedent for UK cinema.

The Lady of Heaven depicts the life of the Prophet Muhammad’s daughter Fatimah, drawing parallels to the struggles of a modern Muslim mother and son in Mosul under the rule of ISIS. The film has been criticised for depicting the Prophet’s face and for sectarian themes. However, the film was created from a Shia Muslim perspective, with the script written by the cleric Yasser Al-Habib. Within Shia Islam there is a more lenient interpretation on the prohibition of images of the Prophet compared to other Muslim denominations. Therefore the depiction of the Prophet was not made to perpetuate anti-Muslim prejudice, but is reflective of different theological interpretations within Islam. The banning of the film has resulted in the censorship of Muslims.

Earlier this week, protests calling for the film to be withdrawn took place outside cinemas in Sheffield and Birmingham, and a petition for the same reached 117,000 signatures.

A Humanists UK spokesperson commented:

‘The fact that Cineworld felt the need to pull this film is hugely disappointing. Its customers and staff have the right to freedom of expression and that includes the right to display or watch content that others might not like, without fear for anyone’s physical safety.

‘In a country that no longer has blasphemy laws but has a long tradition of, and strong protections for, free artistic expression, it should not be conceivable for a cinema to be forced into the position of cancelling a film nationwide. If you are offended by this film you have the choice not to go see it, but you do not have the right to prevent others from making that choice. We will be writing to both Cineworld and the relevant minister to call for greater protections to be introduced to prevent films being censored in the future.’

Notes:

For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at press@humanists.uk or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.

Read more about our work repealing blasphemy laws.

Read more about the abolition of English and Welsh blasphemy laws.

Based in Northern Ireland? Write to your MLA about repealing the blasphemy laws.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

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