Last week, Netflix released its first-ever Arabic series, Jinn, a supernatural thriller drama that was not only shot in Jordan, but was also launched at a red carpet event in Amman. Yet, in an odd turn of events, some people in that same kingdom are now planning to enforce a ban on the show.
Authorities in the country have threatened to stop the broadcast of the show and take legal measures against those responsible for "insulting Jordanian society" and "violating public morals." Whether or not Jordan will follow through with the ban remains to be seen.
Directed by Lebanese filmmaker Mir-Jean Bou Chaaya, the five-episode season follows a group of teenagers whose "lives are disrupted when a Jinn in the form of a teenage boy appears to them in the ancient city of Petra." Friendships and romantic relationships are put to the test after the students unintentionally welcomed the supernatural forces of the jinn into their lives.
Back in 2018, the Royal Film Commission in Jordan (RFC) granted producers approval to shoot the show in Jordan. The kingdom's authority charged with promoting tourism had even highlighted the significance of the production when it comes to shedding the spotlight on Jordan's historical sites and boosting tourism in the country.
However, the release of the series last Thursday sparked controversy among conservative viewers, many of whom criticized the show for including scenes capturing teenage characters kissing, discussing sex, swearing, drinking, and smoking marijuana. Meanwhile, other viewers spoke highly of the show and lauded Netflix for addressing taboo topics.
In response to the backlash, authorities in the Petra region announced they would "take deterrent legal measures against producers for insulting the Jordanian society, represented by the city of Petra, and national standards that are based on the Arab spirit and Islamic values," according to BBC News (Arabic).
Jordan's top prosecutor has also demanded that the cybercrimes department at the Ministry of Interior take "immediate necessary measures to stop the broadcast" of the series because it includes "immoral scenes."
Similarly, Grand Mufti of Jordan Mohammed Khalaileh said the show does not comply with "Islamic precepts" and described it as a "moral breakdown that does not represent the habits and morals of Jordanians."
On the other hand, RFC hailed the conflicting reactions to the show as a sign of "positive diversity" and described the matter as an "issue of personal choice." In a statement shared on Facebook, the commission clarified that it does not have censorship prerogatives and therefore does not look into scripts before granting approval for production.
"There are demands for more individual freedoms and choices. But then when we are faced with issues like this, some people tend to forget about these legitimate demands. After all, this is also an issue of personal choice to watch or not to watch content that we may not all agree upon," the statement read.
The commission noted that many opponents have not watched the entire show, but rather excerpts of it shared on social media "giving it a different bias."
Netflix speaks out
The streaming service also weighed in on the controversy, admitting that the show deals with "universal themes" that "can be viewed as provocative." A Netflix spokesman noted that while content removals are uncommon, the platform does comply with official requests, according to the Associated Press.
Netflix MENA also posted a tweet calling out social media users for taking part in a "wave of bullying" against Jinn actors and staff.
"We will not take such behaviors and hurtful words against our crew lightly. Our stance has always centered around diversity and inclusivity, which is why we work to offer a safe platform for all fans of series and films around the region," the tweet reads.
Here's how some social media users reacted to the controversy:
Many don't see what the fuss is all about
And are questioning authorities' priorities
Where is this energy when it comes to pressing issues?
"In the Arab world, bigotry, sectarianism, poverty, corruption, negligence, discrimination, and extremism are all okay, but God forbid a quick kiss gets captured on television - that calls for rapid intervention."
Or when it comes to sexism and abuse in some local shows?
The harsh reality
"They say the show does not represent Jordanian principles, so it looks like they want a show about honor killings that would represent their values."
"They are criticizing 'Jinn' for violating their morals, as if they weren't hooked on 'Game of Thrones' last month."