Despite all the furore, 'Perfect Strangers' has topped Netflix's viewing charts in the region so far.
Netflix’s first Arabic original feature, Perfect Strangers (Ashab Wala A’aaz), has come under fire in Egypt within days of its launch. Egyptian politician Mostafa Bakry has lodged a formal complaint about Perfect Strangers. In a statement to the speaker of Egypt’s House of Representatives, he said it “incites homosexuality and betrayal.”
The film features some of the biggest Arab film stars, including Egyptian actress Mona Zaki, Eyad Nassar, Nadine Labaki, Georges Khabbaz, and Adel Karam, among others.
Perfect Strangers, the latest in a long line of international remakes of the 2016 Italian hit Perfetti sconosciuti, tells the story of seven close friends who get together for dinner and decide to play a game that involves them placing their cell phones on the dinner table, and agreeing to openly share every call, text and voice message as it comes. What starts out as fun, quickly unfolds into an uncharted path of untold secrets that reveals more than what they wish to share.
Over the course of the evening, the players’ most intimate secrets are revealed. One is in a same-sex relationship and another, played by Zaki, is having an extramarital affair.
The film looks at several topics considered taboo in Arab society – homosexuality, affairs outside marriage and the like.
Bakry objected to the group’s acceptance of the same-sex relationship and of the husband of Zaki’s character laughing off her online dalliance.
Zaki’s role as a sexually adventurous married woman in the film, a contrast to her usual portrayals of modest, quintessentially Egyptian characters, also appeared to have upset many commentators.
In his complaint filed to the speaker of parliament, he said the film’s portrayal of Arabs did not conform to the moral code in Egypt, nor that of the wider region.
Egyptian lawyer Ayman Mahfouz claimed that the film was a plot to disrupt Arab society and that Zaki was the champion of it all. According to reports, Mahfouz — who in 2020 sued the transgender son of Egyptian actor Hesham Selim over an Instagram post he claimed was promoting homosexuality — is now preparing a lawsuit to remove Perfect Strangers from Netflix.
But alongside the backlash has come a flood of support for the film, with many people praising both the storyline — for raising real-life topics often ignored — and the production itself, while also criticising the attitudes of those attacking it.