‘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.