WASHINGTON — On the same day that Arab leaders warned that any U.S. attack on Iraq would “open hell’s gates,” Hollywood’s wartime committee on Thursday bowed a long-awaited international PSA aimed at Muslim auds promoting peace, tolerance, understanding and hope.
Hollywood 9/11 was formed last fall, following a high-profile visit by top White House adviser Karl Rove. Studio execs, guilds and independent producers told Rove they wanted to do their part and help in the war against terrorism.
The message, though, could be blunted by the Bush administration’s stepped-up war cry against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. It’s also unclear what kind of play the PSA will get in the Middle East, where the airwaves are mostly government-run.
The new PSA was the brainchild of Hollywood 9/11’s international subcommittee, led by Sony Pictures Entertainment exec VP Hope Boonshaft.
The spot, headlining 1984 Olympics hurdling champion Nawal el Moutawakel-Bennis, was filmed in Morocco by a production company headed by helmers Ridley and Tony Scott.
Boonshaft said her group wanted to roll out the PSA before next week’s first anniversary of the terrorist attacks. She said Hollywood 9/11 has nothing to do with Washington, or the crisis over Iraq, and the message would thus not be diluted.
“We try to separate ourselves out of politics. Our message is really about bridging cultural divides. This is the first of many spots we hope to be able to do over a five-year period,” Boonshaft said. “We’re committed to doing this type of messaging about tolerance, respect and understanding being our great hope.”
There is no reference to Hollywood 9/11 in the PSA’s credits, only to the Entertainment Industry Foundation, which helped to fund the plug.
Reps for EIF and Hollywood 9/11 are in talks with the governments of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia about putting the PSA on the air. It is already being carried on India’s SET and Japan’s JSB. There also are plans to translate the spot into Mandarin for airing on China’s CCTV-4.
PSA, now available only in Arabic and English, also is being carried on Intl. Channel Networks, which brings international channels to viewers in the U.S.
“In the aftermath of Sept. 11, the world’s peoples need to turn to each other, not turn against each other. We want this message to foster respect and understanding,” the Scott brothers said in a joint statement.
One of Hollywood 9/11’s goals was to develop messages for overseas auds, particularly in Arab countries. Originally, Boonshaft and her team had approached Muslim-American Muhammad Ali, but the boxing champion ultimately turned down the project.
Moutawakel-Bennis, a Moroccan, was the first Arab woman to win an Olympic gold medal. In the Hollywood 9/11 PSA, she is featured running alone on the streets of Casablanca.
In a voiceover, Moutawakel-Bennis says that “animosity, fear and hate between nations, between people, need to be looked over again because life should not be the way it is now.”
Boonshaft said sports and art can tear down barriers and that Moutawakel-Bennis was a perfect fit for the PSA.
“We are trying to deliver a message of peace,” said Kathleen Kennedy, who exec produced the Moutawakel-Bennis PSA. “We believe a better understanding of what’s common between our cultures will help move us toward a tolerance of differences.”
Meanwhile, Arab station Al-Jazeera said Thursday that it will broadcast interviews with two al-Qaida members who admit to helping the terror network plan and carry out the Sept. 11 attacks.
The Qatar-based, pan-Arab broadcaster, which drew world attention when it carried videotaped interviews with Osama bin Laden, said the interviews would air next Thursday as part of its coverage marking the anniversary of the attacks against the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
Al-Jazeera said the al-Qaida members, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramzi Binalshibh, were interviewed recently at a secret location but did not elaborate further.
Binalshibh, a Yemeni believed to be in his late 20s or early 30s, was a member of a Hamburg-based cell led by Mohammed Atta, the Egyptian-born suspected lead Sept. 11 hijacker. Binalshibh remains at large.
Mohammed, 36, is one of the FBI’s most-wanted terrorists and is believed to be at large in Afghanistan or nearby, a law enforcement official told The Associated Press in June. U.S. investigators believe Mohammed, working under bin Laden’s leadership, planned many aspects of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Al-Jazeera chief editor Ibrahim Helal told The Associated Press that the station will mark the Sept. 11 anniversary by running “reports on how the attacks and the war affected the lives of the American and Afghan people, and investigative reports on the attacks themselves.”