‘Much Loved’ movie stirs Morocco pros­ti­tu­tion rum­pus


Moroc­can direc­tor Na­bil Ay­ouch’s movie on pros­ti­tu­tion, “Much Loved,” shown in Cannes but banned at home, has stirred heated de­bate in the con­ser­va­tive Mus­lim king­dom.

The film re­volves around a group of women mak­ing a living from pros­ti­tu­tion in Mar­rakech, the coun­try’s eco­nomic and travel hub.

Scenes from the movie with sex­u­ally sug­ges­tive danc­ing and dia­logue have sur­faced on the In­ter­net, spark­ing a con­tro­versy be­fore it was to have opened in Morocco this au­tumn.

So­cial me­dia have seen strong at­tacks against the film­mak­ers, and a Face­book page has been set up call­ing for the ex­e­cu­tion of the French-Moroc­can direc­tor and his lead actress Loubna Abidar.

Protests have also been or­ga­nized, prompt­ing the Is­lamist gov­ern­ment to ban the movie on the grounds that it was dam­ag­ing to “moral val­ues and Moroc­can women.” Politi­cians have also stepped into the fray.

“Na­bil Ay­ouch has a mother, a grand­mother, a sis­ter and a wife. He should re­turn to God and stop this kind of work,” was the an­gry re­ac­tion of Hamid Cha­bat, head of the Is­tiqlal op­po­si­tion party.

But deputy speaker of par­lia­ment Khal­ija Rouissi, of the Party of Au­then­tic­ity and Moder­nity which is also in op­po­si­tion, coun­tered that the film should be judged on its artis­tic value.

“Artis­tic works must be eval­u­ated ac­cord­ing to cre­ative cri­te­ria and not through a moral prism,” she in­sisted.

The press is also di­vided over whether cinema is the ap­pro­pri­ate arena for a full-frontal and blunt treat­ment of pros­ti­tu­tion.

Other news­pa­per re­view­ers who at­tended a pri­vate screen­ing have wel­comed a film which has sparked con­tro­versy in the North African na­tion. “Much Loved” de­picts “a world filled with hard­ship and vi­o­lence,” wrote Tel Quel, an­other weekly.

A Largely Taboo Topic

Some­what be­lat­edly, Moroc­can me­dia have turned their at­ten­tion to a health min­istry study on pros­ti­tu­tion in four ma­jor cities.

The 2011 sta­tis­ti­cal re­port homes in on the so­cial cir­cum­stances, age of first sex­ual ex­pe­ri­ence and con­tra­cep­tion in the cases of around 19,000 pros­ti­tutes.

Oth­er­wise, it is largely a taboo sub­ject in Morocco, although pros­ti­tutes are ac­tive in tourist ar­eas as well as in ru­ral ar­eas.

Af­ter the film brought pros­ti­tu­tion into the public eye, a pros­ti­tute was in­ter­viewed — anony­mously — on Moroc­can ra­dio at a peak lis­ten­ing hour.

The par­ties, the danc­ing, the vul­gar­ity as de­picted in the movie, “all of that is real,” she said.

With ap­petites whet­ted by the ban, pi­rated DVDs of rushes from “Much Loved” have be­come a hot item on the black mar­ket.

In the thick of the con­tro­versy, direc­tor Ay­ouch in­sists that his aim was not to sen­sa­tion­al­ize pros­ti­tu­tion but rather to give a re­al­is­tic ac­count of the pro­fes­sion based on meet­ings with 200 sex work­ers.

“To stop with the con­tro­versy would not do jus­tice to what th­ese women have to go through ev­ery day. Pros­ti­tu­tion is all around us and in­stead of re­fus­ing to see that, we must try to un­der­stand,” he said.

With the film in­dus­try ral­ly­ing in his sup­port, Ay­ouch told the Hol­ly­wood Re­porter that he was “very shocked and sur­prised” by Morocco’s ban.

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