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Film as Facilitator
The SCREENING of the late Moustapha Akkad’s THE MESSAGE lead to an open discussion of AMERICA , faith and ISLAM
BY DAN GLICKMAN
As President of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) I’m always asked ‘What’s the greatest thing about movies?’ and my stock answer is always ‘They’re a much cheaper way to explore issues than going to a therapist.’ (It gets a bigger laugh in California than here on the East Coast). The reality is the greatest thing about film is clearly its ability to bring people together to discuss the important issues of the day.
I believe film is arguably the most powerful medium in the world. I write this because I’ve witnessed first hand its power to provoke, inspire, educate and entertain. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, an Austrian native, says that he first learned about America through the movies. But as Americans, it’s just as imperative for us to remember that we too can learn about and begin to understand other cultures through film. That desire to understand is why so many prominent Washingtonians and guests, including the wives of numerous cabinet secretaries, ambassadors, senators and congressmen, gathered in the MPAA’s newly renovated theater on February 7 for a screening and discussion of the late director Moustapha Akkad’s 1976 historical epic on the birth of the Islamic faith, “The Message.” We were also honored to have the director’s widow, Sooha Akkad, along with family friends Hala Koutsi and Lana Hamdam, in from California for the event.
“Film is arguabley the most powerful medium in the world”
The screening, organized by Luma Kawar, Rev. Kathleene Card, Debbie Dingell, Samia Farouki and my wife, Rhoda Glickman, was held in memory of the 2005 bombings at three hotels in Amman, Jordan, that killed 60 people. Tragically, Moustapha Akkad was one of those killed. “The Message” is a discourse on the origin and meanings of the Moslem faith. It features Anthony Quinn as the lead. It’s also poignant to note that not once in the film is the Prophet Mohammad portrayed-an interesting fact given the current backdrop of controversy across the Moslem world with regard to cartoon depictions of the Prophet.
After the film, a discussion was moderated by Rev. Card, wife of White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card. It was then that the power of the medium of film was evident. Viewers talked passionately and openly about what they had seen and what it had taught them. For example, Mrs. Farouki, a noted Washington philanthropist, told the crowd the film was “a call for each of us to overcome hatred.” Strong words indeed.
Rev. Card added that, “Every text,” whether Koran, Bible or Torah, “has a context,” and open conversations, like the one we were having over the post-screening lunch, were the best routes to understanding this. Mrs. Dingell and my wife echoed her sentiments immediately. Mrs. Kawar, wife of the Jordanian Ambassador, further stressed the idea of acceptance. “We are all people of the book,” she said. “Whether Moslem, Jewish or Christian, we should focus on similarities instead of dwelling on our differences.”
Many other guests commented on what they learned about Islam, including that religion’s opposition to slavery, the significance of charitable giving, the importance of not harming women and children during times of war, and the thin line that separates this faith from others. Many of the women noted how drastically different the portrayal of women was in the film compared to images they had seen of the lives of women under Taliban rule.
But it was Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf who surprised the audience when he expressed his sincere wish that this occasion could have been broadcast across the Moslem world as a way to more accurately portray America abroad. “It’s wonderful that Rebecca Turner Gonzales, wife of the attorney general, and Alma Powell, General Colin Powell’s wife, joined so many other prominent Washingtonians to watch a three-hour film about the prophet and then participate in a two-hour luncheon discussion about Islam and faith,” he said.
In closing, I would like to thank all of the guests who attended the screening. They helped to remember the tragedy of the Amman hotel bombings, as well as celebrate the life and work of the distinguished American filmmaker of Syrian descent, Moustapha Akkad.