Exhibitor Cineworld has pulled all screenings in the UK of The Lady Of Heaven, a film about the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad which sparked protests at some theaters. A Cineworld statement 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.”
Deadline understands that the film was playing in nine Cineworld locations, and in two of those, protests became aggressive with verbal attacks against managers. Executive producer Malik Shlibak told the BBC the protesters were behaving like “thugs and bullies,” rushing into cinemas and intimidating staff, though he warned canceled screenings could fuel similar protests in the future. “This is not something that should be tolerated in the UK… This is more than just a single film. Today it’s the Lady Of Heaven, tomorrow it could be something dearer to you,” he said.
Over 120,000 people have signed a petition to have the movie, directed by Eli King, pulled from all theaters in the UK. The Bolton Council of Mosques called the film “blasphemous,” and said it “misrepresents orthodox historical narratives and disrespects the most esteemed individuals of Islamic history,” the Bolton News reported. Some groups have criticized it for depicting the Prophet Muhammad, which is taboo in Islam.
The film was originally released elsewhere in 2021, and its website notes, “In accordance with Islamic tradition, during the making of this film no individual represented a Holy Personality. The performances of the Holy Personalities were achieved through a unique synthesis of actors, in-camera effects, lighting and visual effects.”
The decision by Cineworld has been criticized by some as a blow to free speech with Health Secretary Sajid Javid telling TalkTV, “We don’t have blasphemy laws in this country, I think that would be an incredibly dangerous road to go down. What we have in this country is freedom of speech and expression.”
Shlibak told The Guardian 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.”
A Vue International spokesperson said the film is “on show in a number of our cinemas. 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.”