Film classifier didn’t consult Muslims before greenlighting Lady of Heaven

The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) did not consult any Muslim experts before giving the anti-Sunni hate film The Lady of Heaven the green light to be screened in UK cinemas with a “15” certificate.

Following the revelation, protestors heavily criticised the BBFC for ignoring the voices of Muslims over a movie which has provoked outrage among British Muslims with protests taking place outside cinemas throughout England, and nearly 130,000 people signing a petition to get it removed from screens.

In an email exchange with 5Pillars, the BBFC used evasive language and would not confirm if they had consulted any Muslim experts despite repeated requests. This despite the incendiary nature of the film which 5Pillars flagged up more than five months ago.

When asked directly about the matter the BBFC would not give a straight answer.

Their press team said: “We base our Classification Guidelines on regular consultation with over 10,000 people across the UK, to ensure our classification decisions reflect broad public opinion. We also work closely with experts in particular fields, including child psychologists, education professionals, charities, and other organisations to inform our approach. We are accountable both to Parliament and to people across the UK.

“As mentioned in our statement, there is nothing in The Lady of Heaven that exceeds our Classification Guidelines at 15.”

Upon receipt of this statement, 5Pillars again asked the BBFC to clarify if it had consulted Muslims – to which we received another evasive reply.

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The BBFC said: “As mentioned, the guidelines review takes place every four to five years where we talk to a diverse range of people, taking into account race, ethnicity, gender, faith, and identity, to ensure that our policies are representative of people’s views across the country. On occasion, and where necessary, we do consult with experts and individuals in particular fields on specific decisions.”

‘Shocking oversight’

Muslim protesters, imams and industry experts criticised the BBFC over its oversight.

Sajid Varda of UK Muslim Film said: “Films must undertake a thorough review process before release to audiences involving several parties including sales agents, distributors and the BBFC. This is not only vital and best-practice but provides robust safeguards against content which will inflame and antagonise tensions around sensitive topic areas. UK Muslim Film exists primarily to provide guidance to the industry and creatives who wish to ensure their productions authentically represents the communities (often minorities) they represent in an informed, sincere and constructive manner.

“As filmmakers, freedom of speech is both a right and responsibility. The art we create should be founded upon a desire to explore and understand the world around us, under the banner of united values for cohesion. It is disappointing that the production of a film like ‘Lady of Heaven’ came to audiences without decision-makers consulting with the very people they intend to represent on open platforms. We must do better.”

Maulana Usman from Bradford told 5Pillars: “We criticise the British Board of Film Classification for not consulting any Muslim Sunni scholars with regards to the content of this film, and the authenticity, the veracity of the claims provided in it. We want our voices raised, we want to raise this concern because the BBFC are the root of this issue in terms of this film getting out without any consultation with mainstream Muslim scholars.”

And Shaykh Muhammad Umar Ramadhan from Rochdale said: “It’s just very shocking and very upsetting because they’ve made a decision in giving the reward of the movie without getting any independent Muslim academic viewpoint, any scrutiny. I think it’s extremely sad and I wholeheartedly condemn it, they should have had the courtesy of at least contacting us or any professor or academic or university specialist on Islam.”

Earlier the BBFC released a general statement about the film to the media.

“We classify content in line with our published Classification Guidelines, which are the result of wide-scale consultations with thousands of people from across the UK, extensive research, and more than 100 years of experience. They are updated every four to five years to ensure that our standards continue to reflect the expectations and values of people across the country.

“We classified The Lady Of Heaven 15 for strong bloody violence, gory images, and threat. We provide content advice – which we call ‘ratings info’ – on our website and app for every film we classify, so that audiences can decide for themselves whether a film will be suitable for them or their families. You can review the ratings info for The Lady Of Heaven here.

“On occasion, we will consider some content unsuitable for classification, in line with the objective of preventing non-trivial harm risks to potential viewers and, through their behaviour, to society. As an accountable and transparent organisation, this decision and the reasons for it will be communicated to the distributor and publicly. However, there is nothing in The Lady Of Heaven that exceeds our Classification Guidelines at 15 or deems it unsuitable for classification.

“Filmmakers are free to explore historical or controversial themes and events within their films. The BBFC’s role is to ensure the content is classified appropriately based on our guidelines, in order to protect children and other vulnerable groups from potential harm and to empower consumers to make informed viewing decisions.”

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