Netflix’s first ever Arabic film, a remake of the Italian hit “Perfect Strangers,” has quickly hit No. 1 in several countries across the Middle East and won critical acclaim, but it’s also been the subject of controversy and outrage from more conservative citizens and even lawmakers in Egypt.
Attacks on social media against one of the film’s Egyptian stars, Mona Zaki, spread online since its debut on Jan. 20. But the outrage came to a head when an Egyptian lawmaker, Mostafa Bakri, said in a TV interview (via the Washington Post) that the film was “targeting” family values. He even called for a special session of parliament to discuss whether “we should ban Netflix.”
A lawyer even filed a lawsuit against the Egyptian Ministry of Culture and the Artistic Works Censorship Authority, saying that the film “promotes homosexuality.” Egypt has cracked down on LGBTQ+ individuals and gay rights with many arrests over the last several years.
“Perfect Stranges,” or known by its Arabic title “Ashab wala Aaz,” is a remake of the Italian film also titled “Perfect Strangers” from 2016, and the film is notable for being the most remade film ever across 18 different countries. The drama tells the story of a group of friends who at dinner plan to share everything on their phones, including emails, photos, texts and voicemails as they come in. What starts out as fun quickly unfolds into an uncharted path of untold secrets that reveals more than what they wish to share.
The Egyptian version of the film shows Zaki as a wife in an unfulfilling relationship who at one point takes off her underwear from underneath her dress. The film also includes a gay character and a frank discussion of a father discussing sex with his daughter, and also grapples with themes of marital issues, infidelity and the impact of technology on our relationships.
Despite the film not having any sex scenes or nudity, “Perfect Strangers” has been rated 16+ in the country. And Netflix recently released data that shows it hit No. 1 in countries such as Egypt, Morocco, Jordan and Lebanon and is No. 5 on the streamer’s global charts for non-English language films, having been viewed for 2.6 million hours around the world. And despite the controversy, many have also championed the film, including noted Arabic critics Tarek El Shenawy and Majida Mouris.
Also starring in the new “Perfect Strangers” are Nadine Labaki, Georges Khabbaz, Adel Karam, Fouad Yammine and Diamand Abou Abboud. The film is directed by first-time filmmaker Wissam Smayra.
Netflix had no comment.