Netflix’s first Arabic-language original film, We Know Each Other…Or Not, is accused of “moral degradation” in the Middle East because of a gay character.
We know each other… or not, the first original feature film in Arabic from Netflix, is the umpteenth remake of the Italian film Perfetti sconosciuti, adapted in France under the title Le Jeu. The Lebanese adaptation by Wissam Smayra was strongly criticized by conservatives in the Middle East a few days after its launch on January 20.
The film is criticized by an Egyptian politician who accuses it, among other things, of perversion, promotion of homosexuality and infidelity. And even, to be part of a plot to disrupt Arab society.
As a reminder, We know each other… or not, which stars Nadine Labaki the writer-director of Capharnaüm and the Egyptian star Mona Zaki, tells the story of a group of friends in Lebanon who, one night, play to a game where they make all the calls and texts on their phones available to each other, revealing all their secrets.
The controversy swelled on Twitter, triggering an avalanche of homophobic messages. The film is thus accused by some of encouraging homosexuality and “moral degradation”, and of “introducing Western ideas into a conservative society”. One user accused the film of being a “crime”, adding that not only should it be banned, but everyone involved should face “prosecution”.
Recently, The Eternals by Chloé Zhao was censored and West Side Story banned from cinemas in much of the Middle East due to their inclusion of LGBTQ+ characters. However, since it’s being streamed online, We Know Each Other…or Not didn’t need to go through local censors and was able to land on Netflix uninterrupted.
Much of the anger has emerged in Egypt (We Know Each Other…Or Not is an Egyptian co-production), directed in particular at Mona Zaki, who in one scene in the film takes off her underwear (even though nothing is seen , because there is no nudity at all). A Twitter user has accused Zaki – a big star in Egypt – of being part of a hidden plan from abroad to force social change.
Politicians get involved
Outside of social media, Egyptian lawyer Ayman Mahfouz claimed the film was a “plot to disrupt Arab society” and that Mona Zaki was the “standard bearer” of it all. According to The Hollywood ReporterAyman Mahfouz – who in 2020 sued the transgender son of Egyptian actor Hesham Selim over an Instagram post he said promoted homosexuality – is currently preparing a lawsuit to have We know each other… ou no Netflix.
Various Egyptian news sites and the Arabic edition of CNN also reported that the film was even mentioned by Egyptian politician Mustafa Bakri, who in a statement to the speaker of the Egyptian House of Representatives said that he ” incites homosexuality and betrayal”.
In Egypt, unlike the Gulf countries, homosexuality is not officially illegal, although it is regularly repressed in society. But in the face of the controversy, there have been many supporters for the film, praising both the screenplay – which raises real issues that are often overlooked – and the production itself, while criticizing the attitudes of those who attack it.
Thus, a fan hashtag that translates to #ImAlsoAPerfectStranger has emerged on Twitter. And one of Egypt’s biggest international stars, Amr Waked, known for his roles in Syriana and Lucy among others, tweeted that anyone “afraid” that a movie might change their faith didn’t really have faith.
Despite all the hype, We Know Each Other…Or Not was a huge success in terms of viewing, topping the Netflix top charts in the region and confirming Netflix’s policy of producing more localized content. In France, it is currently in sixth place in the top 10 films on the platform.