Last week we discussed the scandal sparked by the release of a controversial film in Morocco. Now, another film has been axed in Lebanon. The reason is pretty much the same: sex.
"Help" is the tale of a teenager, Ali, who lives in a van in Lebanon. His life suddenly turns upside down when he meets Thuraya, a prostitute living with a gay man. "Help" is the first feature film by the young Lebanese director Marc Abi Rached. Lebanese authorities initially gave it the green light on two conditions: that it be restricted to viewers 18 years old or older and that an image of female genitals be blurred. The film was scheduled for release on February 19. While the preview went ahead as planned on February 12, three days before nationwide release the authorisation was suddenly revoked. "Help" has turned out to be highly controversial, not least because the lead actress, Joanna Andraos, the daughter of a Lebanese MP, appears fully naked.
“The female genitals were blurred just as the censors had requested”
Joanna Andraos, 29, is the lead actress in "Help".
The censorship is unlawful. First they give us a licence, and then they take it back. This is unprecedented in Lebanon. Furthermore, the whole thing is being politicised and some people are cashing in on the dispute. I am an actress before being the daughter of an MP. As for the sex scene, there’s nothing to see: just legs, the hint of a breast and a naked back. The genitals were blurred, just as censors had requested."
“It’s shocking to see that the decision depends on just one person, whereas there are laws that should be applied”
Marc Abi Rached, 33, is the scriptwriter and director of "Help".We still don’t know the real reason behind this decision. They haven’t published a statement. All I know is that the head of the censoring body was replaced and that his successor withdrew the authorisation. It’s shocking to see that the decision depends on just one person, whereas there are laws that should be applied. They criticise us for showing a sex scene. But if we’d done a film about dustbin collectors, we could hardly have avoided showing a waste-collection centre. "Help" tells the story of a prostitute, so it’s perfectly normal that there should be a sex scene."
"Unfortunately our society is not open enough"
Paul Chahine, 30, works in the import industry in the capital, Beirut.
This film does not warrant censorship. Had it been released outside Lebanon, there would’ve been no problem at all. Unfortunately our society is not open enough. I believe religious figures (both Christian and Muslim) lobbied for the film to be censored."
"’Help’ shows that there are people in need of assistance in our society"
Yara Harakeh, 23, has just finished her studies in biochemistry and is now on the lookout for a job.The film is about same-sex relationships and prostitution, both of which exist in Lebanon and should therefore be discussed. ‘Help’ shows that there are people in need of assistance in our society. And as for Joanna, I’m convinced critics are more interested by her part in the film than by her being the daughter of an MP."