Who’s afraid of The Da Vinci Code? Lots of people, it seems. And lots of countries. Ron Howard’s film, based on the bestseller novel by Dan Brown and starring Tom Hanks and Audrey Tatou, has been banned in different countries (Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan), while in the Philippines it is for “adults only”. Dan Brown’s book, first published in 2003, has sold over 40 million copies since its publication, and has spent over two years on the New York Times bestsellers list. In the book, Brown writes about a conspiracy by the Catholic Church to cover-up Jesus Christ’s supposed marriage to Mary Magdalene and the birth of their child. During the last few weeks, several Christian groups across the globe have protested against the movie, more strongly than had already been done with the film (which means that a film is perceived as more dangerous than a book). The indignation has been probably fuelled by the Vatican that has asked followers to boycott the book and the film, calling it a “sack full of lies.” Surprisingly, also several Islamic countries protested against the film, and have also banned it.
Let’s start from Lebanon, the only country that banned the book in 2004. Translated into Arabic, the book was subsequently confiscated by the Lebanese authorities at the request of the Catholic Media Centre in Lebanon. Now Lebanese people will have to expatriate, if they really want to watch the film. But, in any case, it would be useless for them to go to Egypt, Syria or Jordan, because these are the three other Middle East countries which have officially prohibited the screening of the movie. In Egypt the movie was scheduled for public release on May 17. A week before the release date, its movie trailers were banned since the head of the Censorship Bureau announced that his office had not yet received a copy of the film to allow him to decide whether it would or would not be screened. In Jordan it was the Council of Churches, the country’s main Christian organization that called for the ban.
Jordan and Egypt are banning the film because it “harms Christian and Muslim religious symbols by calling into question what is written in the Gospels and the Koran on the personality of Christ,” according to the secretary general of the Jordanian Council of Churches, Archbishop Hanna Nour.
Recently, Jordan banned movies like “Syriana”, “Paradise Now” and “Munich”, while in the past Egypt banned Elizabeth Taylor’s “Cleopatra” (1963), “The Devil’s Advocate” (starring Al Pacino, in 1997) and allowed the release of Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ” (2004), denounced as anti-Semitic by many Jewish groups. Pittsburgh Tribune-Review recently did a story on Moustafa Darwish, who worked as a film critic in Egypt and directed government censorship in the 1960s. Darwish recalled that "many films (that) had something to do with religion … were forbidden," although he felt they contained "nothing against public order or morals." Darwish was fired because he allowed movie trailers of "Cleopatra" and "The Taming of the Shrew" to run in Egyptian theatres (at a time when Elizabeth Taylor was considered a "Zionist agent").
Currently, Bahrain, Israel, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are the only Middle Eastern countries where it is possible to watch the film. In the Philippines it was given an "adults only" rating, meaning the controversial religious thriller will not be shown to under-18s in this predominantly Catholic country where the largest chain of cinemas does not show under-18s certificate films. In Thailand, a largely Buddhist country, audience may not be able to watch the movie after a police-run censorship board ordered the last 10 minutes cut and some sub-titles changed before it is shown. The board ordered the excision of the final scenes because, according to censor Chavana Phavakanant, as quoted by the Bangkok Post, they felt it affected Christian beliefs of Christians. Similarly, Singapore’s Board of Film Censors has barred moviegoers 16 years and younger, from buying tickets to the film.
In India, the Goa government has passed a resolution seeking a ban on the film. In a show of solidarity with the Christian community, Muslim groups and clerics in Mumbai have demanded that the movie be banned in India. "We cannot tolerate any insult to Jesus Christ," Maulana Mansoor Ali Khan, general secretary of All India Sunni Jamat-Ul-Ulema, an organization of Islamic clerics, told the Indian review rediff.com. "In the Holy Koran it is written clearly that Jesus is one of our prophets. The film The Da Vinci Code says that Jesus was a married man. That is blasphemous," Ali Khan added. In the end, however, the Indian government gave the film a go-ahead as long as it has a disclaimer at the beginning reminding viewers that it’s only fiction.
But not everyone in the Muslim world is afraid of “The Da Vinci Code”. Some say there are lessons to be learned. Like Rana Abu Ata, a local correspondent in Riyadh for the al-Arabiya TV channel. On 2 October 2005, she wrote an article in the London-based international Arab daily al-Hayat, as reported by the site tomgrossmedia.com. Rana Abu Ata mentioned the important role women played in the formation of Christianity as shown by Dan Brown, and reflected about the possible effects of the story on educated young women in the Muslim world. The novel, she said, “has opened doors that were locked behind veils”. The heart of the discussion, she adds, is the need to discuss the status of women in modern Arab societies and the unfair reduction of their rights despite provisions in the Koran that the status and rights of men and women should be equal. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why it is not only the Catholic Church that is afraid of this blockbuster movie.