‘Ben-Hur’ distributor confirms Jesus scenes cut in studio for Malaysia

Cast member Jack Huston and model Shannan Click pose at the premiere for the movie ‘Ben-Hur’ at TCL Chinese theatre in Hollywood, California August 17, 2016. ― Reuters pic
Cast member Jack Huston and model Shannan Click pose at the premiere for the movie ‘Ben-Hur’ at TCL Chinese theatre in Hollywood, California August 17, 2016. ― Reuters pic

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KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 23 — The latest Hollywood remake of Ben-Hur was edited to remove scenes featuring Jesus Christ before Malaysian censors saw the film, United International Pictures (UIP) Malaysia confirmed.

"We submitted into the Censor board a Studio pre-edited version which was available for countries that do not allow the depiction of prophets on film whether by law or due to local sensitivities," a spokesman from the company told Malay Mail Online in an email response late yesterday.

The company explained that all films are required by law to be submitted to the Malaysian Censor board to comply with their rules, regulations, guidelines and decision before a release is allowed.

"We learned from past titles submitted to the Malaysian Film Censorship Board (LPF) that no Prophets are allowed to be depicted on film. In Malaysia, previous films such as Noah and Exodus which depicted prophets were banned by LPF," it said.

Both films feature Noah and Moses, biblical characters from the Old Testament, who are also mentioned as Islamic prophets in the Quran. Jesus is also mentioned in the Islamic holy book.

Malaysian censors have in the past banned certain films that depicted prophets of Abrahamic faiths, such as the 1998 animated musical, Prince of Egypt.

Malaysian cinemagoers raised a stink on social media last week after finding out that all scenes with Jesus that some claimed to be pivotal to the storyline were removed from the local version that was released September 15.

UIP Malaysia said the Malaysian version which was pre-cut to a total running time of 114 minutes is also available for other countries.

Contacted earlier this week, LPF chairman Datuk Abdul Halim Abdul Hamid said the US filmmakers had already edited the 2016 Ben-Hur before it was brought in for local screening.

He denied that LPF made any cuts to the version that was sent to it.

“No, that one is clean, no cut, not even any scene from the film,” he said.

He also confirmed that LPF did not request the removal of scenes depicting Jesus.

“We didn't say anything, not a word from us. Probably they themselves understand our sensitivities,” he told Malay Mail Online.

He said some filmmakers typically take it upon themselves to remove scenes that they know may be censored in Malaysia, such as those featuring vulgarity, he said.

“They have already censored the part before they sent to us. If they don't do that, if we ask them to cut, it might affect the subtitles, storylines,” Abdul Halim added.

He explained that foreign films to be screened in Malaysian cinemas have to go through the LPF's vetting process before receiving a certificate called Sijil A, along with a report on whether cuts are required and on its classification for audiences.

Local films require a Sijil A to qualify for the Wajib Tayang or Compulsory Screening scheme, he said.

He said LPF only communicates with film distributors and does not liaise with producers directly.

Film distributors would usually then communicate with the producers abroad on the LPF’s request for scenes that should be cut.

He confirmed LPF adopts the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia's (Jakim) guidelines for films, adding that the body tasked with overseeing religious matters and even the police are sometimes invited to view films together.

"But we also have some guidelines from Jakim that any films cannot portray all the prophets or the angels, even the Satan in the context of Islam.

"Anything mentioned in Quran cannot be visually portrayed in the form of character, figure or drawing," he added.

Ben-Hur, a contemporary Hollywood remake of the award-winning 1959 epic, stars Jack Huston, Toby Kebbell, Rodrigo Santoro, Nazanin Boniadi, Ayelet Zurer and Morgan Freeman.

The movie is based on the 19th-century novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, which tells the fictional story of an enslaved Jewish prince named Judah Ben-Hur that is set against the time of events involving Jesus.

According to UIP Malaysia, the film that is currently showing in nationwide may be shown through the month of October.

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