Lady of Heaven film: why has Lady Fatima movie been pulled by Cineworld after protest controversy - is it still on at Vue?

The controversial film has been branded offensive by some Muslims, but others say its cancellation sets a risky precedent

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Cineworld theatres in the UK have cancelled screenings of a new film claiming to tell the story of Lady Fatima, the daughter of the Muslim prophet Muhammad.

Filmmakers behind The Lady of Heaven “sought to tell the story of a historical, spiritual figure that had not been emphasised in films beforehand,” and say their film “shines a light on stories that are not typically portrayed in popular culture.

“There are 250 films on Jesus Christ, 120 films about Moses, 80 about the other Prophets, and 40 films about Buddha, but there are none about the life of Lady Fatima, daughter of Prophet Muhammad, who is held dear in the hearts of billions worldwide,” they have said.

And there may be good reason for that; the inherent taboo of depicting religious figures on film and in other media that exists within Islam.

The Lady of Heaven, which premiered in the UK on Friday 3 June, claims to be the first film to depict the Prophet Muhammad’s "face" on screen - though no single actor is credited with portraying him, and holy figures’ computer-generated faces are frequently depicted in bright sunbursts.

Since the film’s limited release, protests have taken place across the UK amid claims that the film mocks individuals in early Sunni Islam, and will exacerbate tensions between Sunni and Shia Muslims.

Cineworld have since issued a statement announcing that all upcoming screenings of the film have been cancelled, in an effort to “ensure the safety of staff and customers.”

Here is everything you need to know about it.

(Photo: JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)(Photo: JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
(Photo: JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

What is The Lady of Heaven?

The Lady of Heaven presents two separate tales that span 1400 years.

The modern day story follows Laith, a young Iraqi boy who is adopted by Bibi after his mother is killed in war.

Laith learns about Lady Fatima’s struggles through Bibi’s storytelling and gradually learns to cope with the challenges of his modern-day world.

Fatima was born to the Islamic prophet Muhammad and his first wife Khadijah, according to Islamic belief.

Sunni Muslims believe she was the youngest of the couple’s daughters, while Shia Muslims hold that Fatimah was the couple’s sole biological daughter.

Fatima has been compared to Mary, Jesus’ mother, particularly among Shia Muslims, and is widely held as an ideal example for Muslim women, a model of compassion, kindness and endurance in the face of adversity.

Her name remains a popular choice throughout the Muslim world.

Why has it caused controversy?

Cineworld has cancelled the screenings of a new film 'The Lady of Heaven' after nationwide protestsCineworld has cancelled the screenings of a new film 'The Lady of Heaven' after nationwide protests
Cineworld has cancelled the screenings of a new film 'The Lady of Heaven' after nationwide protests

Despite some early plaudits from non-Muslim critics, the film has received widespread condemnation throughout the Muslim world; more than 120,000 individuals have signed a petition to have the film The Lady of Heaven withdrawn from cinemas.

Some groups have criticised it for representing the Prophet Muhammad - considered an insult in Islam - as well as its portrayal of significant venerated individuals in early Sunni Islam.

This has become a highly divisive topic due to a division in different schools of religion: most Sunni Muslims feel such depictions should be outlawed, while Shia Islam generally supports them, as long as they are done respectfully.

The film was deemed "blasphemous" and "underpinned with a sectarian ideology" by the Bolton Council of Mosques.

Detractors are also upset about how Shia Muslim filmmaker and cleric Yasser Al-Habib has portrayed key early Sunni figures, drawing parallels between their deeds and those of the Islamic State organisation in Iraq.

Shia media outlet The Muslim Vibe claimed the film exists only “to offend Sunni Muslims” rather than depict “a Shia Muslim understanding of this contentious period of Islamic history".

Criticisms were levelled at the portrayal of some of the characters considered holy in Islam, who are “shown to be corrupt, treacherous and conniving from the outset without any nuance to their character.

“The CGI used on the Prophet’s wife’s face was intended to make her look very ugly, which of course is not only offensive to all Muslims but offensive to anyone watching the film because of its immature use of cliches to frame a story.”

Why are the protests significant?

While protesters who want the film banned demonstrated peacefully, cinemas obviously believed that their behaviour was threatening enough to have screenings cancelled.

Since then there has been outrage - including from some Muslims who actually did want to view the film - because a small number have been able to exert their will in such a way that it appears to normalise the suppression of blasphemy.

A House of Lords peer called the cancellation "disastrous for the arts, dangerous for free speech," while the film’s producer praised the protesters’ right to express their unhappiness, but argued it was "silly" and against British values to remove the film entirely.

Where can I see it?

Regardless of its welcome from religious personalities and institutions, The Lady of Heaven has garnered generally unfavourable reviews from critics, with only a few faint compliments earning it a Rotten Tomatoes score of only 20%.

The film was still set to be screened in a number of Vue cinemas around London and the south-east on Wednesday 8 June.

In a statement, a spokesperson said: “Vue takes seriously the responsibilities that come with providing a platform for a wide variety of content and believes in showcasing films of interest to diverse communities across the UK.

“Vue will only show a film once the BBFC (the independent British Board of Film Classification) has assessed and rated a film. The Lady of Heaven has been BBFC accredited and is on show in a number of our cinemas.”