SAUDI ARABIA: Banished from the kingdoms

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Director Peter Berg’s ‘The Kingdom,’ a star-studded Hollywood blockbuster set in Saudi Arabia, has been banned from the screens of at least three Persian Gulf kingdoms.

Puritanical Saudi Arabia, where most of the film’s story unfolds, doesn’t allow any movie theaters. But other Gulf states have given the film a big thumbs-down. News agencies report that Kuwaiti censors have banished the film from the nation’s screens. Even libertine Bahrain’s Ministry of Information has barred the action-packed thriller.

‘The movie, ‘The Kingdom,’ was banned from cinemas here because it is not in conformity with the censorship laws of the Kingdom of Bahrain,’ said an official at Bahrain’s Ministry of Information, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Released this month in the Middle East, ‘The Kingdom’ tells the tale of a group of federal agents who fly to the Persian Gulf to track down the terrorist who is the mastermind behind the killing of American oil workers and their families in Riyadh.


Much of the the movie was filmed in the Persian Gulf city of Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, which, along with Qatar, has allowed the movie to show in cinemas.

Starring Oscar winners Jamie Foxx and Chris Cooper, along with ‘Alias’ star Jennifer Garner, the film has proved a fairly big hit in the Arab world. It strives hard to sensitively depict daily life in the oil-rich, religiously conservative Gulf. It adheres to a standard buddy-cop formula. Foxx and his team of no-nonsense G-men first resent then team up with and befriend a hardworking and talented Saudi cop. (It wouldn’t be much of a spoiler to reveal who gets killed at the end of the movie.)

But perhaps the film’s suggestion that extremists have infiltrated Saudi security forces rankled Gulf censors.

‘The film vilifies a brotherly country, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,’ the Bahraini official said in a phone conversation from Manama. ‘It attempts to show Saudi Arabia as a country that supports terrorism or helps propagate it.’

All films shown in Bahrain must be screened by the Information Ministry before being allowed in movie theaters, and quite a few get barred. ‘Many films shown in Europe and the U.S. do not conform with the nature of societies and culture in Bahrain,’ he said.

— Borzou Daragahi and Raed Rafei in Beirut