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Election 2012: Image World (18)

A. D. Coleman. Photo © 2012 by Anna Lung.Post-Season Wrap-Up (f)

Because it played a brief but prominent role this past fall in the presidential campaign, I discussed at some length, over a series of posts, the hugely controversial and appallingly amateurish movie trailer Innocence of Muslims, as part of my “Election 2012: Image World” coverage of the race for the White House.

Other issues overtook this one, and Innocence of Muslims faded from the headlines. Yet this laughably inept, cut-rate production, bankrolled and otherwise enabled by the evangelical right in the U.S., represents the one set of images that emerged during the election cycle that promises to remain active (even if in a lower-profile way) in the post-election, post-inauguration political environment. So I thought it deserved an update and a denouement of its own.

They’re Not So Innocent

Having tracked this as it unfolded, I’ll continue; here’s where things stand now in relation to this volatile turkey:

"Innocence of Muslims" (2012), title card.

“Innocence of Muslims” (2012), title card.

  • YouTube has refused to take the video down, citing the First Amendment. On that basis,  I applaud their decision. However, the filmmaker, whose current legal name is Mark Basseley Youssef, may have violated the terms of his probation — which forbade his use of computers and the internet for five years without approval from his probation officer — when he produced and posted the video. If so, YouTube’s legal relationship to the illegally posted video becomes more problematic.
  • Its anti-censorship stance notwithstanding, YouTube has blocked users from accessing it in Saudi Arabia, Libya, Egypt, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and now Russia, where the film has been ruled illegal.
  • The Moscow Tverskoy District Court ruling, which branded the Innocence of Muslims film as “extremist,” has entered into force. This bans distribution of the film in Russia. Presumably that means it will be blocked online by Russian sites.
  • Afghanistan’s Ministry of Communications has ruled to restore access to YouTube, banned in September due to the release of the movie.
  • Pakistan also blocked YouTube due to the trailer, but its citizens have begun to demand restoration of access. The government is considering ways of filtering out anti-Islamic content.

    Cindy Lee Garcia, "Innocence of Muslims" (2012), screenshot.

    Cindy Lee Garcia, “Innocence of Muslims” (2012), screenshot.

  • One of the film’s actors, Cindy Lee Garcia, asked for a federal court order to force the film’s deletion from YouTube, on the grounds that it violates her copyright, since she claims that she never signed a release for her performance. If true, that argument could in fact hold water. Absent such a release (click here for a standard version), Garcia would retain many rights to her performance, perhaps including approval of any published version.
  • The filmmaker and his attorney have countered Garcia’s claim by producing what they assert is her signed release. (The court had already denied Garcia’s previous request, which did not include the charge of copyright violation.) The claim of copyright violation was initially rejected by U.S. District Court Judge Michael Fitzgerald in the Central District of California. Garcia has appealed that decision to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, with their decision presumably forthcoming this winter. The grounds for her appeal appear to be that the purported release is a forgery. If so, it raises questions as to which members of the cast and crew, if any, actually signed legal releases. (Click here for a pdf of the alleged release from Garcia, dated August 9, 2011.)
  • Notwithstanding all that, Youssef  has claimed repeatedly that he wrote the film’s script and acted as a “cultural consultant” on it, but does not “own” the film. If he doesn’t, who does hold its copyright — if anyone? Has he released it into the public domain?
  • According to a court filing on behalf of Youssef dated November 28, 2012, “[Youssef's] son [Abanob Basseley Nakoula] uploaded both the English language and Arabic versions of the trailer for the film . . . to YouTube at his request.”

    First published photo of Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, seen on the set of "Innocence of Muslims" with Anna Gurji, one of the actresses in the film. Screenshot from TMZ.com.

    First published photo of Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, seen on the set of “Innocence of Muslims” with Anna Gurji, one of the actresses in the film. Screenshot from TMZ.com.

  • In his first interview since the uproar began, Youssef told the New York Times in late November that he had no regrets, and that the cast and crew had all signed standard contracts. He also asserts that a full-length, 100-minute version of the film exists. The Times report indicates that “in 2009, according to court records, he changed his name yet again, this time to Ebrahem Fawzy Youssef.” In this account his 21-year-old son, Abanob Basseley Nakoula, says that he’s the one who posted the video at YouTube. (See “From Man Who Insulted Muhammad, No Regret,” by Serge F. Kovaleski and Brooks Barnes, November 25, 2012.)
  • U.S. District Court Judge Christina Snyder has sentenced Youssef, the film’s presumed producer, to another year in prison plus four subsequent years of probation to complete the previous sentence for which he was out on parole when he made the trailer.
  • The court has made it clear that this sentence relates exclusively to assorted parole violations — not to the making of the film, its content, or the effect of its release.
  • Youssef’s attorney, Steven Seiden, told reporters, “The one thing he [Youssef] wanted me to tell all of you is President Obama may have gotten Osama bin Laden, but he didn’t kill the ideology.” Good of him to clear that up; POTUS might have assumed that nailing OBL took care of that whole fundamentalist-Muslim problem.
  • Death sentences have been issued by an Egyptian court to Youssef, anti-Muslim Christian pastor Terry Jones, and 6 others involved in the film’s production and promotion, all eight tried, convicted, and sentenced in absentia.
  • No major media outlet has explored the origins of this film in the radical Christian right in the States, despite ample evidence of that conspiracy.

    "The Innocent Prophet" (2008), screenshot.

    “The Innocent Prophet” (2008), screenshot.

  • Jones has now completed and posted online his own sequel, The Innocent Prophet, a 71-minute movie he completed in collaboration with an ex-Muslim named Imran Firasat. Done in a graphic-novel style visually, with a documentary-narrative voiceover that subjects Mohammed to amateur psychobiography, it’s unbearably tedious, though less risible than Innocence of Muslims. Somehow it has not caused any notable riots or other expression of mass indignation.
  • Despite the fact that Innocence of Muslims remains available on YouTube and other sites, Muslims worldwide have somehow mostly managed to get over this mortal insult and turn their attention to other matters.
  • However, Muslim clerics announced that Hurricane Sandy (which ravaged the east coast of the U.S.) was Allah’s vengeance on Americans for Innocence of Muslims, produced entirely on the west coast. (Allah works in mysterious ways.)
  • And the American Embassy in Islamabad has cancelled the visas of Pakistan’s federal minister for railways Ghulam Ahmad Bilour and his wife, and banned him from visiting the US in future, due to the $100,000 bounty Bilour placed on the head of the trailer’s producer.
  • Hollywood Endinga play by C. J. Johnson written in eight weeks and based on the controversy, made its debut in Sydney, Australia on November 21.

    Christopher Stevens, Benghazi, Libya, Sept. 12, 2012. Photographer unknown.

    Christopher Stevens, Benghazi, Libya, Sept. 12, 2012. Photographer unknown.

  • Republicans addicted to Obama-related conspiracy theories persist in pursuing the narrative that the Obama administration deliberately deceived the public by asserting that this film trailer sparked the September 11 assault on the Libyan consulate, at the time of the attack and for some days thereafter. Typical of the genre: Iran-Contra mastermind Oliver North’s screed for The Washington Times, “‘Innocence of Muslims’ was just a cover-up,” September 21, 2012. (For a counterweight, enjoy Steven Colbert’s take on this, “Mitt Romney’s Libya Comments.”)
  • They used this claim to tarnish the reputation of Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice, Obama’s once-likely nomination to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, forcing her to withdraw her name from consideration, as well as to vent their spleen at outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
  • Despite this, no major media outlets have connected the vulnerability of the U.S. buildings in Libya to the Republican-led defunding of security at those sites, and pointed out the Republican hypocrisy on display here. One exception: Dee Evans, in her op-ed for The Huffington Post, “Benghazi — The Selective Memory of Republicans, and the Media,” dated November 11, 2012.
  • Substantial recent commentaries on the film and events surrounding it include “Disaster Movie,” by Michael Joseph Gross, Vanity Fair (December 27, 2012) and “The Muhammad movie: look who fanned the flames,” by Emad Mekay, Columbia Journalism Review (January 7, 2013). Also worth a visit: the occasionally updated selection of relevant snippets at Know Your Meme.
  • Should you want to champion free speech while risking a fatwa by staging a theatrical production of Innocence of Muslims, holding a public reading thereof, or screening the film at midnight for costumed audience response (à la Rocky Horror Picture Show), you’ll find the full script here.
“Innocence of Muslims” (2012), screenshot.

“Innocence of Muslims” (2012), screenshot.

Unraveling the tangled skein of this film’s creation and subsequent history awaits some researcher more persistent than I. No doubt there’s a book-length account in the works. Not to mention a documentary film. Probably Nakoula/Youssef’s “as told to” autobiography, drafted while he serves his new sentence. The mind boggles.

Spend an hour reading such as Time magazine’s “Friends of ‘Sam Bacile’: A Who’s Who of the Innocence of Muslims Film” and “The Making of Innocence of Muslims: One Actor’s Story” and “How Innocence of Muslims Emerged from the Seamy Side of Hollywood,” plus WND’s “Volunteer says link to ‘Innocence’ film endangers life” and On the Media’s “Why Are All The Religious References in ‘Innocence Of Muslims’ Dubbed?” . . . You will find your head spinning with the intricacies of anti-Semitic / anti-Muslim / Coptic Christian / evangelical right-wing plots as you teeter on the brink of a rabbit hole. Don’t say I never warned you when your brain gets lost.

Barring some interesting new development, I don’t expect to return to this lurid, snarled, made-for-the-tabloids story. Yet we should remember that this film, and the secretly made “47 per cent” Romney video, both of them made by amateurs, had more impact on the 2012 election than any professionally made media material. Which, in a weird way, should give us heart, demonstrating as it does that, despite all the billions poured into our political system by the corporate state, the citizenry can still affect the outcome.

This post supported by a donation from the Estate of Lyle Bongé.

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