When reports emerged last week that Danielle Arbid’s titillating noir film Beirut Hotel had been banned by General Security, some were skeptical as to why. While the film features explicit sexual content, an anonymous General Security source said the film was banned “because it mentions the 2005 assassination of ex-Prime Minister Rafic Hariri.”
The following day, several bloggers voiced their doubts with the security threat explanation. Mustapha Hamoui, author of Beirut Spring, wrote: “It seems to me that the film was banned from Lebanese movie theaters…because it features a double-whammy of a taboo: Explicit sex between a Lebanese woman and a foreign man.”
The film, as is apparent from the trailer, contains several scenes of a sexual nature that several groups in Lebanese society could find offensive. Given previous cases of censorship, it is evident that many bodies have a say in the matter, mainly religious groups and political figures.
Examples of such cases include the threat to censor Lady Gaga’s hit album “Born This Way” as well as the ban on Iranian film Green Days.
According to a blog entry on the Tajaddod Youth website , which allegedly summarized a study on how censorship in Lebanon is conducted, General Security “almost always” complies with the wishes of religious institutions and political figures with regard to film censorship. The study, conducted by human rights lawyer Nizar Saghieh, will be released on December 15 alongside a draft bill to reform cinema censorship, according to one Tajaddod Youth member who wished to remain anonymous.
But the fact that the film My Last Valentine in Beirut has not been banned from Lebanese theaters comes in favor of General Security’s explanation. The film, which is expected to be released in Lebanon on February 14, 2012, is sexually provocative and talks about the final days if a Lebanese prostitute.
According to the same anonymous General Security source, the Beirut Hotel filmmaker mentioned assassinated PM Hariri in the final version of the film, despite agreeing with General Security and the Information Ministry to omit it.
In an apparent response to this assertion, the director posted a comment on her Facebook page stating that “whatever General Security in Lebanon may say in the press, I NEVER accepted to remove any line or any part of any film I did after shooting it. And I NEVER will. I consider that no film deserves to be cut.”
Motives aside, the very fact that film censorship is still rampant has caused stern criticism from free speech advocates, including Beirut Hotel director Arbid who is threatening to take legal action against General Security.
Arbid told NOW Lebanon that she is working with Human Rights lawyer Saghieh, who is offering legal representation for free, to take legal action against General Security for what she describes as “an issue of freedom.” It is the first time that a Lebanese director has taken such a step, Arbid said in an earlier interview with NOW Lebanon. Although NOW Lebanon was unable to reach Saghieh for comment, more details on the legal action are expected later this week, according to a source close to Arbid.
This is not the first time Arbid has had problems with General Security over this issue. Two of her previous films, In the Battlefield and A Lost Man, were also subject to censorship, and it would seem as if this is taking its toll. Arbid told NOW Lebanon that she does not think she will be allowed to direct another film in the country. But even if she is, she stated that her “next movie will not be about Lebanon. I am fed up to be honest.”
It seems Arbid is not the only one who is disenchanted with the system in place. Lea Baroudi, who is part of a group of activists behind the Facebook page Stop Cultural Terrorism in Lebanon, said that she and her peers are frustrated with two main issues relating to the practice of censorship in place. The first is the lack of transparency surrounding the process as it involves numerous state institutions with the capacity to censor and the criteria for censorship are not clearly defined. Secondly, censors are “patronizing the Lebanese people. Let them make their own decisions [whether or not they want watch a specific film],” she added.
Ayman Mhanna, the executive director at Samir Kassir Eyes (SKeyes) Center, revealed that the center is discussing the matter with lawyers, and the body is also “seriously considering taking it to the judicial level.” The overall goal, Mhanna explained, would be to attain “a legal precedent” which could be used by free speech advocates, artists and others to reject censorship decisions.