To some degree, the troubles in the Middle East at present were all sparked by a 13-minute YouTube trailer for a low budget, bigoted film, “the Innocence of Muslims”.
While it appears many of the more serious attacks may have simply been using the protests as a cover, or that the video sparked pre-existing tensions, it’s hard to deny that the obscure film has proved a catalyst.
But what do we actually know about the film?
The film tells the story of the Islamic Prophet Mohammad, portraying him as a fraud and a child molester.
It’s notably low budget, with especially poor make-up and extensive use of green-screen. While it is difficult to make out any real plot from the trailer, the film appears to show the persecution of Christians in a Middle Eastern country, before jumping back to the time to the 6th Century to show the life of the Prophet Mohammad.
Notably, many parts of the dialogue appear to have been dubbed in post-production, including many parts of that refer to the Islamic faith.
While certain elements of the production remain unclear, there a few details have been put together.
On Tuesday the AP interviewed a “writer and filmmaker” by the name Sam Bacile at an undisclosed location. Bacile said he was an “Israeli Jew” who had made the film with $5 million donated by 100 Jewish donors.
Multiple holes were found in Bacile’s story, most notably by Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic, who spoke to a man involved in the film who said Bacile was neither Jewish or Israeli, and that Bacile was not his real name.
On Wednesday the AP spoke to another man linked to the film, a Coptic Christian man called Nakoula Basseley Nakoula who lived in California. Nakoula denied he was involved in the film, but the phone number the AP used to contact Bacile was linked to Nakoula’s house. Nakoula also covered his middle name on his driving licence when talking to AP reports (notice the similarity between Bassely and Bacile). Nakoula had also been convicted of federal bank fraud, the AP noted.
US law enforcement have today told the AP that Nakoula is behind the film.
The Daily discovered a casting call from 2009 that did not appear to make any mention of the anti-Islamic elements of the article.
Members of the 80 person cast have issued a statement to the press that said they “were grossly misled about its intent and purpose”. One actress on the film, Cathy Lee Garcia, told Gawker that all elements of anti-Semitism were dubbed afterwards.
Buzzfeed also spoke to Jimmy Israel, a film producer who claimed he was briefly attached to the movie. Israel said that the film was originally titled “Desert Warriors”, and featured far less inflammatory content. Israel reveals many details of strange behaviour by “Bacile”, and also says that the budget for the film was $100,000.
By all accounts, the film’s theatrical run wasn’t a success.
The New York Times spoke to Steve Klein, an anti-Islamic activist who had a hand in producing the film, who said that the film played to a “depressingly small audience” at a cinema in Hollywood over Summer. “Bacile” gave a similar account in his first interview with the AP. The New York Times was not able to identify the theatre that played the film. Many observers have questioned if the film was shown at all, or whether more footage exists outside of the trailer.
The film was also promoted by anti-Muslim preacher Terry Jones, who does not appear to have had a hand in its production.
What’s strange here is how the film went from a theatrical failure to a YouTube success. A YouTube account linked with the name “Sam Bacile” first uploaded the English-language version of the film in July.
The video only really gained an audience when an Arabic-language version of it was posted to YouTube on September 4 (the video has since been removed). The video was later spread by members of the Coptic community in the United States, and the London-based Islamic Observatory Centre re-uploaded the Arabic-language version of the video to their YouTube account (they have since removed it).
It was only on September 9th — just two days before the violent protests and attacks on embassies in Libya and Egypt — that the film entered mainstream Egyptian culture, appearing in an Egyptian newspaper and part of the trailer was broadcast on Egyptian television.
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