The airing of the anti-Islam video “Innocence of Muslims” launched a surge of outrage and protest across Muslim communities, and the effects of the provocation continue to ripple outward ten days later.
The tragic deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi on September 11, allegedly in a military-style attack made by enraged protesters, propelled the video to the forefront of global discourse. At least twenty-four additional deaths related to violence caused by protest of the film have been reported since. In the wake of the controversy, the film’s cast and crew have come forward to speak out about the film’s suspect production and defend themselves against public backlash.
On Monday, Sept. 17, “Coraline” author Neil Gaiman posted a letter to his website written by Anna Gurji, an acquaintance of his and one of the actresses that appear in “Innocence of Muslims.” Gurji claims that the film’s producers and director, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, led her to believe she would be acting in a movie called “Desert Warrior,” which “was about a comet falling into a desert and ancient tribes fighting over it.”
According to Gurji, it wasn’t until post-production that the anti-Islam themes were injected into the film. The actress asserts that characters’ names were changed (e.g. “George” became “Muhammad”) and lines were manipulated and excessively re-dubbed. Her last claim can be confirmed by any discerning viewer of the 14-minute trailer, which is still up on YouTube. “There was no mention EVER by anyone of MUHAMMAD and no mention of religion during the entire time I was on the set,” Gurji writes.
Her shaken co-star Cindy Lee Garcia has made similar allegations. After failing to persuade Google to remove the clip from YouTube, she brought her case to an L.A. court under the assertion that her likeness was fraudulently exploited in the film. The judge denied her request, despite Garcia’s claims that she has been receiving death threats and was fired from her job because of the scandal.
Garcia also says that she has never seen more than the 14-minute footage of the film, according to a Hollywood Reporter account. A series of “trailers” for “Innocence of Muslims” were posted, but efforts made to unearth a full-length version have proven futile and have prompted speculation that the film does not actually exist. Nakoula alleges that there was one official screening of the full-length film at a theater in Hollywood, but an employee of the theater told the L.A. Times that no one attended the screening and that he himself did not view the film.
Not everyone is deterred by the unrest. In Germany, a far-right group called Pro Deutschland has announced plans to screen the trailer publicly in a Muslim neighborhood in Berlin and subsequently screen the entire film. Much like Nakoula himself, Pro-Deutschland apparently seeks to use the incendiary, though poorly produced, film to provoke a passionate reaction.
Meanwhile, as of Friday, an Egyptian cleric had called for a fatwa against everyone associated with the movie, threats that L.A. law enforcement agencies are monitoring.