When Netflix released its first original Arabic series Jinn in June 2019, the expectations for a new and modern era of film in Jordan soared. What Netflix did not foresee, however, were the negative implications the series could have on the kingdom ... as well as the astronomical disappointment of viewers.
The anticipation was palpable when Netflix initially announced the release of Jinn. Yet after viewers began watching the series, the aforementioned excitement - especially that of Jordanians - dwindled rapidly. The first episode alone launched an uproar that caused a domino effect not only on social media but throughout the country's entire film industry.
For those who haven't watched the series yet, thus are clueless to why a Netflix original would cause such riots in the Arab region, here's a quick glimpse at what it's about:
A group of Jordanian teenagers goes on a school field trip to Jordan's iconic archaeological site Petra. During that trip, a student named Yassin (played by Sultan Alkhail) got literally bullied into a hole in the ground, cussed at and peed on by bullies, and then to really hammer that nail into his coffin, got bitten by a scorpion.
As night descended, a bunch of friends - including the bullies - strayed off from the rest of the field trip to build a bonfire around which they drank alcohol and smoked weed. As the group hung out, Mira (one of the main characters played by Salma Malhas) and her boyfriend Fahed (Yasser Al Hadi) walked off to a secluded spot to get intimate together, aka make out.
So far, red flags flooded the first episode ... at least many Arabs had their cup full after only 45 minutes.
Viewers and the region's conservatives did not approve of what they saw; they criticized the series for being "westernized," irrelevant to the country's culture, immoral, and just plain bad.
Jordan's Grand Mufti - an Islamic jurist qualified to issue a non-binding opinion on a point of Islamic law - called Jinn "a moral breakdown."
The kissing, the creative swear words, and the mentions of drugs and sex are, according to critics, not something Arab teenagers do. Reviews on websites like IMDb were as low as a discouraging 3.5 out of 10 rating.
On the other hand, some Jordanians believed the series depicted them quite accurately and was in fact simply showing the reality of teenagers in the country.
It's noticeable how very few condemned the extreme bullying happening in the series, while the majority chose to focus on slut-shaming actress Salma Malhas, forcing not only Salma but the entire series' cast into hiding.
Does this prove bullying among teens is actually common and part of the Jordanian culture? Yes.
The shaming and online bullying Malhas went through led parents to prohibit their children from appearing in any sort of production for fear they may be subjected to the same treatment.
At the same time, governmental organizations began restricting what could and could not be produced in the kingdom. It became mandatory for full scripts to be read in order for them to get approved by the Jordanian Minister of Interior and the General Intelligence Department. Anything deemed inappropriate would be denied production permission.
"This incident has added to the already complicated bureaucracy of Jordan's film industry," said independent film producer Ossama Bawardi.
According to Bawardi's statement to Arab News, the Jinn debacle has affected not only the country's film industry but its private sector as well.
In trepidation of something happening to hurt their businesses and institutions, people have become much more cautious with their investments in the film industry.
By the time the filming of Jinn was completed, Netflix had already lined up another Jordan-based Arabic series, Tina Shomali's Al-Rawabi School for Girls. Due to the backlash Jinn received, the production of Shomali's series had to be put on hold.
This meant a significant number of people who were working on and around the set of that show suddenly found themselves jobless. That, in addition to the increased cost of living in the kingdom, the intensified censorship, as well as the rise in taxes on incoming productions meant the whole ordeal was magnified tenfold.
Mohannad Al Bakri, the managing director of the Royal Film Commission (RFC) Jordan, told Screen Daily that Jordanian cast and crew made up between 60 to 70 percent of both foreign and local film productions that take place in Jordan. Meaning lots of people lost their jobs when Netflix's second Arabic series came to a sudden halt.
In an attempt to remedy the situation, the kingdom has since increased the maximum cash rebate (partial refund) for international productions, raising it from 10 percent to 25 percent.
For local productions, however, the rebate varies. Spendings of $1 to $3 million offer 10 percent rebate; $3 to $5 million grants 15 percent; $5 to $7 million returns 20 percent; and anything above $7 million affords 25 percent rebate.
Additionally, the RFC has been signing co-production agreements with Western countries such as Canada and Belgium. The RFC also hosted a tour at the end of September of the most movie-esque locations Jordan has to offer to Hollywood film and television executives as part of an annual familiarization (FAM) tour.
"We have to get to the point where the film industry is [wholly] independent. That's what we need. For Jordan to be able to make Jordanian films," Bawardi explained.
"What if foreign productions don't want to come to Jordan anymore? What if there is a political situation that means those films cannot come? Then the Jordanian film industry will be doomed. It has to come from the inside and not the outside to be sustainable," he argued.