Cannes Exec ‘Stupefied’ by Morocco’s Ban on Prostitution Drama ‘Much Loved’

PARIS — Cannes Directors’ Fortnight topper Edouard Waintrop has joined the flurry of international filmmakers and producers who are protesting Morocco’s ban on Nabil Ayouch’s prostitution-themed drama “Much Loved.”

Since world-premiering at Directors’ Fortnight, “Much Loved” has prompted an avalanche of criticism from conservative and radical voices across the web and an eventual ban from Morocco’s Ministry of Communication for “serious outrage to the moral values of the Moroccan woman.” Ayouch and “Much Loved” star Loubna Abidar have also been targeted by death threats on social networks.

Waintrop said he was “stupefied” to learn of the official ban and death threats in Morocco — a country that “welcomes many French and international film shoots and hosts the Marrakesh film festival.”

Added Waintrop, “As always, films have had the goal to show reality through every prism. Evidently, this film about prostitution in Marrakesh shows a reality which Moroccan authorities refuse to look at. However, this denied reality won’t be altered by an act of deliberate censorship.”

Ayouch told Variety he was also stunned by the decision of the Moroccan Ministry of Communication because none of its five members have actually seen the film, and Ayouch hadn’t not even requested a visa to show the film in theaters. The director/producer, who is a leading film industry figure in Morocco, explained the decision was based on two clips from the movie that leaked on the web, and the subsequent criticism that started spreading on social networks.

The clip that sparked the most outrage shows three prostitutes in a car speaking about clients; one says she hopes to get a “Saudi Arabian man who is good-looking, nice and has a small penis.”

It’s a major blow against the freedom of expression which the country has gained in the last 15 years since King Mohammed VI — who is reputed to be a movie lover himself — ascended to the throne, claimed Ayouch, who is based in Casablanca.

The ban indeed reveals the fast-growing radicalization of Morocco, which is still considered by many as the most moderate country within the Arab world. That fairly liberal image has allowed Morocco to continue luring Hollywood shoots such as “A Hologram for the King” and “Spectre.” The local government is now mostly led by Islamists.

“There is a growing gap between the image that Morocco gives and real life,” noted Laila Marrakchi, another Moroccan filmmaker who faced harsh criticism from radicals for her movie “Marock” which turned on a love story between a Jewish man and a Muslim girl. The movie was hotly debated at the Ministry of Communication and Parliament before being eventually spared from censorship.

“Sex remains the number one taboo in the Arab world, and Morocco isn’t an exception,” pointed out Marrakchi. Documentaries, radio and talk shows dealing with sexuality air without restriction in Morocco but fiction films are judged differently by authorities because because they can reach a wider audience, per Marrakchi.

High-profile French film directors and producers — including Arnaud Desplechin, Michel Hazanavicius, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Costa-Gavras, Bertrand Tavernier, Jean Labadie, Edouard Weil and Christophe Rossignon — have signed a petition to support Ayouch and Abidar.

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