A popular U.K. cinema chain capitulated to demands from angry Muslim protesters over the weekend by announcing it would cancel all upcoming screenings of "The Lady of Heaven," a new film about the daughter of the prophet Muhammad.
The stunning decision garnered immediate criticism online from free speech advocates and defenders of the arts.
The movie's executive producer, Malik Shlibak, called Cineworld's acquiescence "unacceptable" and went so far as to accuse the chain of "bowing down to radical extremists," the Daily Mail reported. Likewise, Claire Fox, who sits in the House of Lords, slammed the move as "disastrous for the arts, dangerous for free speech, a lesson to those who argue identity politics are no threat to democracy."
Cineworld, on the other hand, defended its decision by claiming it pulled the film out of fear for staff and customer safety.
"Due to recent incidents related to screenings of 'The Lady of Heaven,' we have made the decision to cancel upcoming screenings of the film nationwide to ensure the safety of our staff and customers," the cinema chain said.
The incidents it was referring to were protests at theaters across the country, some hundreds strong, where furious Muslims blasted the movie as "blasphemous." 5Pillars, a Muslim news site, tweeted a photo on Sunday showing what it alleged to be "200 Muslims protesting against sectarian hate film Lady of Heaven outside Cineworld in Broad Street, Birmingham."
Shortly after, a video began circulating online showing the manager of Sheffield Cineworld informing protesters that Sunday night’s screening had been cancelled to loud cheers and cries of "Allahu Akbar."
Sheffield Cineworld Cancel Sectarian Hate Film ‘Lady of Heaven’www.youtube.com
At issue for the Muslim protesters is the portrayal of Muhammad by an actor as well as the film's purportedly negative depiction of the religion's key figures and Muslim religion itself.
A petition on change.org signed by more than 100,000 people states: "The film directly disrespects Prophet Muhammad who is depicted by an actor, deeply shocking and disrespectful to the best of creation. It is also a deeply racist film with all the main negative characters being portrayed by black actors. Furthermore it also portrays the companions of our Prophet Muhammad in a bad manner."
But writing for the Spectator, columnist Brendan O'Neill noted that many of the protesters weren't so much religious fanatics but seeming members of the "godless woke mob."
To prove his point, he referred to one protester in Bradford, West Yorkshire, who reportedly said: "We are very offended. We have a right not to be insulted," adding, "You have no right to tell us our history. We will not let this film go on further."
Another carried a sign saying, "It's not ok to offend 1.8 billion."