Cineworld has cancelled all UK screenings of a film about the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad, after it prompted protests outside some cinemas.
The cinema chain said it made the decision “to ensure the safety of our staff and customers”.
More than 120,000 people have signed a petition for The Lady of Heaven film to be pulled from UK cinemas.
The Bolton Council of Mosques called the film “blasphemous” and sectarian.
But House of Lords peer Baroness Claire Fox called the decision “disastrous for the arts [and] dangerous for free speech”, while Health Secretary Sajid Javid said he was “very concerned about the growing cancel culture” in the UK.
In an email to Cineworld, reported by the Bolton News, the chairman of the Bolton Council of Mosques, Asif Patel, said the film was “underpinned with a sectarian ideology” and “misrepresents orthodox historical narratives and disrespects the most esteemed individuals of Islamic history”.
It came after more than 100 people protested against the film outside the cinema earlier this week, the newspaper reported.
The Muslim news site 5Pillars also shared a picture on Twitter of what it said showed 200 Muslims protesting against the film outside a Birmingham branch of Cineworld on Sunday. The film’s executive producer, Malik Shlibak, said he welcomed people expressing their views but said cinemas should “stand up and defend their right to show films that people want to see”.
“I think cinemas are crumbling to the pressure, and taking these decisions to quell the noise,” he told the Guardian.
Speaking to TalkTV on Wednesday, Mr Javid said: “I am very concerned about the growing cancel culture in this country. There’s people out there who think they have a right not to be offended and of course, no-one has that right.
“You might not like what someone’s got to say, but they have a right to say it.”
He pointed out that there are no blasphemy laws in the UK and warned that would be “an incredibly dangerous road to go down”.
“What we have in this country is freedom of speech and expression and that is a fundamental value,” he added.
Criticising calls to cancel the film, Baroness Fox said in a tweet:”Same ‘I Find that Offensive’ cancel culture arguments now being used far beyond campus activism. Disastrous for the arts, dangerous for free speech, a lesson to those who argue identity politics are no threat to democracy.”
The film, which was released in UK cinemas on 3 June, claims to tell the story of Lady Fatima, the daughter of Prophet Muhammad.
It has been criticised by some groups for depicting the Prophet Muhammad, which is seen as an insult in Islam.
The film’s website says “no individual represented a Holy Personality”, with performances instead achieved “through a unique synthesis of actors, in-camera effects, lighting and visual effects”.
The Muslim Council of Britain, the UK’s largest Muslim umbrella organisation, has described the film as “divisive”.
In a statement on Sunday, the organisation said it “supports those scholars and leaders who are advocating for greater unity and for the common good”.
“There are some – including many of this film’s supporters or those engaging in sectarianism in their response – whose primary goal is to fuel hatred,” the statement added.
Screenings of the film were still scheduled for Wednesday at a number of Vue cinemas in London and south-east England.
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.”
The company would not confirm whether any screenings had been cancelled, but added: “Decisions about how long a film remains on show are taken on a site-by-site basis and based on a variety of commercial and operational factors.”
A spokesperson for Cineworld said: “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.”
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