Religious Reasons Behind the "Noah" Ban

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures
March 28th, 2014

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Russell Crowe's new movie "Noah" hits theaters at the end of March, 2014, but it has been stirring up controversy well in advance of its release. Several countries, including Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, have announced their intentions to ban the film from showing in their theaters. The similarity these countries all share is that they are Muslim-majority countries and consider depictions of prophets taboo. However, the Muslims are not the only religious group to take issue with the film's depictions of Biblical characters and events.

"Noah" is written and directed by Darren Aronofsky and stars Russell Crowe as the titular character. Aronofsky said from the beginning of the project that he viewed the character Noah as someone with a dark and complicated personality. He believes that Noah experienced an actual feeling of survivor's guilt after escaping the apocalyptic flood that kills everyone and everything on Earth in the movie. His view is not entirely off base. Noah was depicted in the Bible as having considerable reservations about building the Ark and God's warning about the flood. However, initial test versions put before an audience worried Paramount as the distribution company. The fear was that the film would be met with negative reactions. As such, Paramount worked on alternate versions and tested those. Aronofsky stated he was not happy with this development.

In the end, Paramount agreed to release Aronofsky's version, but quickly added a disclaimer to their website stating that the film was based on the story of Noah but contains artistic license. Their reasoning for this is simple, as they do not want to alienate any prospective audience, whether believer or unbeliever. The rest of the disclaimer even recognizes that the story is a cornerstone of faith and that they believe the movie is true to the "essence" of this story. Despite this disclaimer, several Muslim majority countries have stated their intentions to ban the film from release in their theaters. The primary reason is a religious one. Noah is a figure that is shared in Christian, Jewish and Muslim traditions, and is, as Paramount said, a cornerstone of these faiths. According to Islam, he is one of the prophets and depicting a prophet is taboo in Islam. This is the simple reason for the ban; however, upon digging deeper, the authorities responsible for the ban also believe that the film's story and characters contradict Islamic teachings.

Islamic countries are not alone in this feeling, as several Christian groups have also come forward to express their issues with the film's depiction of Noah and the events in the film. The official statement from one of Egypt's top religious institutions said that the film should be banned for violating Islamic law through the depiction of a prophet and for its potential to stir the feelings of believers. The last part of the statement could be open to interpretation, but is likely to mean that the alleged liberties with the story would have a negative effect on believers. Officials in Pakistan stated that they had not seen the film, but are unlikely to allow it as the censorship boards tend to avoid films of a religious nature. There are differences between the story as told in the Koran and as told in the Bible, but the basic plot of a flood and Noah saving each species of animal is the same.

Despite the controversy, some Muslim pundits have come forward to disagree with the decision to ban the film in some countries. One pundit writing for USC noted that the states doing this all had a state-sponsored religion. He went on to say that the movie's depiction is more of a gray area and not on the same level as idols or picture depictions of the prophets. At the same time, some of the more secular states in the region have expressed their intentions to show the film. One cinema manager in the West Bank said they intended to order the film and they thought the controversy would make it more appealing. Further, despite the fatwa issued by the aforementioned religious organization in Egypt, the state law says that religion cannot keep a film from theaters.

In the end, "Noah" is likely to do just fine despite the bans in some countries. A notable publication stated that America is hungry for faith-based films. Despite objections it is likely that people from all three of the faiths mentioned are bound to turn out to see the film and view the controversy for themselves.