Controversy erupted on social media following the release of Netflix’s first Arabic original film ‘Ashab wala A’azz’ (‘Perfect Strangers’ in English). The movie, starring Egyptian superstar Mona Zaki, Jordanian actor Eyad Nassar, Lebanese actor and director Nadine Labaki, and a number of other Arab actors, was released on Netflix on 20 January, 2022 and has been among the top trending topics on social media in Egypt ever since.
The film raised many eyebrows with its apparent support for the LGBTQI+ community and open discussions about sex.
During the film, it is revealed that one of the characters is gay – representation that is rare to see in the Arab cinema world and has sparked heated discussion on social media. Another scene that has sparked debate is one that shows Zaki taking off her underwear and stuffing it in her handbag.
Social Media users reacted very differently to the new film, with a #اصحاب_ولا_اعز (#perfect_strangers) and #مني_زكي (#mona_zaki) going viral on social media outlets. A number of viewers have criticized Netflix and the cast of the film, including Mona Zaki in particular, for creating a “film that goes against Egyptian values and morals”. Others attacked Zaki and her husband, actor Ahmed Helmy, with a myriad of insults and protests.
Those criticizing the latest Netflix Arabic original include controversial television show host Moustafa Bakri, who slammed the film for contravening the morals of Egyptian society. The film even irked a parliamentarian, who called for an urgent discussion into LGBTQI+ issues.
Similarly to Bakri, Egypt’s Twittersphere has been filled with homophobic messages related to the show.
“A drop in the long history of Mona Zaki and Eyad Nassar. I would like to ask Mona and Eyad, you are protecting the [LGBTQIA+] community and their rights. What do your children feel after seeing you in this film that’s morally and intellectually inappropriate? If one of your kids would come out to you as Queer, would you hold on to that ideal then?” wrote Qatfa Ghangh on Twitter. Many others posted similar messages on social media, with many including homophobic slurs.
يعتبر الفيلم سقطة في تاريخ #منى_زكي و #أياد_نصار ، وابغى أسال منى وأياد وانتوا كده بتدافعوا عن المثليين وحقوقهم ، أيه موقفكم من اولادكم بعد الفيلم الساقط فكرياً واخلاقياً ؟!
ولو جاء واحد من اولادكم وكان شاذ ، كان ردّكم لازم تتمسكوا بحقوقكم وتدافعوا عن شذوذكم ؟! #اصحاب_ولا_اعز
— قطفة غنج (@gg44202) January 21, 2022
Others blamed Netflix, claiming that the company has an agenda to spread “deviant ideas” in order to “normalise false ideas”
Netflix, the company responsible for producing films, has a desire to spread some deviant ideas and wants to allow us to normalize these false ideas.
I ask everyone to keep their principle and not consider these ideas.#اصحاب_ولا_اعز pic.twitter.com/YgZLUKBI85
— Momen Othman (@MomennOthmann) January 22, 2022
There has nevertheless been a strong showing of support for the film and its cast, including from other actors in the region. Those supporting the film say the film promotes equality that is needed in the region, while others praise the production itself, as well as the acting.
Homosexuality isn’t illegal in Egypt, but is often cracked down upon in all spheres of Egyptian society. Themes of homosexuality have been discussed in Egyptian films before, but almost always under the guise of comedy or through hidden innuendos.