Backlash, Praise for Gay Character in Arabic Netflix Movie

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Sunday February 6, 2022
Originally published on January 24, 2022

With its Arabic remake of "Perfect Strangers," Netflix has sparked furious claims of "promoting homosexuality" and "perversion" from conservatives, while reaping critical plaudits, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

The entertainment news outlet relayed that "within days of its launch on Jan. 20," the feature had been "criticized by an Egyptian politician and accused of, among other things, perversion, promoting homosexuality and infidelity and even being part of a plot to disrupt Arab society."

The movie is a remake of a 2016 Italian feature in which "a group of friends in Lebanon who one night play a game where they make all the calls and text messages on their phones available to one another, unveiling various secrets and scandals."

But the "scandals" spilled over into real life when the subject matter "raised many eyebrows with its apparent support for the LGBTQI+ community and open discussions about sex," Egyptian reported.

"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," Egyptian noted. "Another scene that has sparked debate is one that shows [Egyptian star Mona] Zaki taking off her underwear and stuffing it in her handbag."

"One Twitter user accused Zaki — a huge star in Egypt — of being part of an overseas agenda to force social change," The Hollywood Reporter noted, adding that there were also accusations on social media of the filmmakers "putting Western ideas in a conservative society".

One Egyptian lawyer, Ayman Mahfouz, is even reportedly "preparing a lawsuit to remove 'Perfect Strangers' from Netflix."

THR recalled that in 2020 Mahfouz "sued the transgender son of Egyptian actor Hesham Selim over an Instagram post he claimed was promoting homosexuality."

However, the film has also enjoyed a rising tide of support, "with many people praising both the storyline — for raising real-life topics often ignored — and the production itself, while also criticizing the attitudes of those attacking it," THR said.

"Meanwhile, the Egypt's professional actors union issued a statement in solidarity [with] the cast of 'Perfect Strangers,' particularly Mona Zaki, calling for the preservation of 'creative freedom,'" THR added.

A deeper story is told by the numbers, though: "Perfect Strangers" shot to the top of the Netflix heap in terms of viewership in the Arab world.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.