One of the major headlines in recent news concerns violent protests from the Muslim community in over 20 countries due to an American film, which has been deemed to be anti-Islam material. The film poses Muhammad as a fool, child abuser, womanizer, homosexual and a religious fake. The sparks of protest are another fire of the heavy controversy involving the interpretation of Islam and the usage of visual representations of Muhammad in film.
The most prime example involves the American cartoon series “South Park.” Although other primetime animation series flirt with religious figures, “South Park” is on its own tier. Their first depiction of Muhammad aired in the pre-9/11 episode, “Super Best Friends.” The episode revolves around a group of religious superheroes, including Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha and several other religious keystone figures who unite to thwart evil. At the time, no controversy followed the episode.
“South Park” continued to utilize their visual interpretation of Muhammad. In 2010, another episode, called “200,” aired, involving a group of celebrities (led by Tom Cruise) who file a lawsuit. The large ensemble of angry celebrities promise to end the lawsuit if the town can produce the Muslim prophet. Even before the episode aired, the “South Park” creators and Comedy Central received death threats from multiple Islamic organizations.
One group, called Revolution Muslim, warned that the show’s creators would “probably wind up like Theo van Gogh” if they decided to visually interpret Muhammad in an episode. Van Gogh was a filmmaker who was assassinated for a film concerning the treatment and abuse of women in modern-day Islamic society. He was shot eight times and stabbed successively with a knife, dying soon after the assassination occurred.
The continuation of “200” came with the following episode, “201,” which was heavily censored by Comedy Central, which refused to show Muhammad on the network. The episode aired with heavy image obstruction and audio editing that cut out all references to Muhammad. Even the Canadian Comedy Central, which through the years had always screened uncensored “South Park” episodes, followed through with the full-out censored episode.
The episode’s censorship had critics in arms, claiming this to be a win for Muslim extremists and that it would be a catalyst for radical group threats. In an ironic twist, “200” and “201” were nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program in 2010. As of today, “Super Best Friends,” “200” and “201” are unavailable to stream, download or buy, even on Netflix, Hulu and iTunes.
American films and cartoons have always depicted religious figures and explored religious and spiritual themes. “Family Guy” has devoted episodes to stories concerning interpretations of Jesus and God. Cartoons, such as “The Simpsons,” have regular dialogue with religious identities, including wicca, creationism, sects and atheism. One may argue that American cartoons and films that utilize religion open their audience to acceptance and diversity of culture and faith. JCU freshman Mark Smithhisler said that, like “South Park,” cartoons “make fun of everyone at some point in their series.”
However, cartoon depictions have never led to such turmoil that this amateur film has already produced. The film has pushed ahead of any American interpretation or documentary through its high levels of blasphemy and outrageous lies. The film itself isn’t even an accurate interpretation of the religion or Muhammad and just further pushes controversy revolving the Islamic faith in cinematic culture.