In April 2013, the Lebanese anti-censorship organization March announced that they would be staging a play “Bto2ta3 aw ma Bto2ta2?” (“Is It Permitted or Not?”) Well, last August, they found it wasn’t permitted:
When “March” organizers went to meet with the head of the censorship bureau at General Security, General Akiki, “he was shouting at the office, saying that this is unacceptable and we were offending and making fun of the censorship bureau, and portraying a very wrong image of them[.]”
Often, as it happens in the “Is It Permitted or Not?” script, Lebanon’s censors will suggest changes to works that will allow them to pass. But with Bourjeily’s play, the entire work was red-lined.
As proof that his was the correct decision, Gen. Akiki appeared on Lebanese television a week later, on September 3, with testimony from four unnamed critics, each of whom said that there was no artistic merit to the work.
Then, earlier this month, the playwright behind the piece — Lucien Bourjeily (@lucienbourjeily) — was nominated to win a 2014 Index Freedom of Expression Award for his play. Other nominees in the arts category are Egyptian musician Mayam Mahmoud, Turkish playwright and writer Meltem Arikan, and British playwright David Cecil.
Last week, Index also posted an excerpt from the play, trans. Ruth Ahmedzai.
It’s clear why the play would get the censors’ undergarments in a twist. After Captain Shadid explains all the wonderful revisions he’s made to Kareem’s script:
Captain Shadid Khalas, come now – no need to get all hot and bothered. Honestly, I get hundreds of scripts on my desk every day and I assure you, your screenplay is much better this way. It’d make a lovely short film. God grant you success!
Kareem But, Captain Shadid, I’ve spent three years working on this script! Can’t we come to a compromise? Can’t we see if there are any smaller changes we could make instead?
Captain Shadid [answering the telephone] Hello? Yes, Brigadier-General. Certainly, sir. Yes, sir. I’m looking into the matter right now, sir.
Captain Shadid gestures to Kareem to see himself out of his office.
“One of [their] arguments … was, ‘It’s not real to life. It’s a fiction.’… We thought, ‘Okay, let’s follow your suggestion. Let’s do kind of a docu-play about what happened with us and this play.’ We’ll channel our frustration into the second play,” he laughs. “If that gets banned, we’ll channel our frustration into a third play, and maybe one day the 10th sequel of ‘Will It Pass or Not?’ will be accepted and then we’ll throw a great party.”
More censored Lebanese stuff!
The Uncut Film Festival is going on now until Feb 21. Free entrance!