Imagine you’re a no-name actor keen to make it in the movie business. You live in California and respond to a generic casting call for an indie feature film called Desert Warrior. The casting call describes it as a “historical desert drama set in the Middle East” to be shot in LA at backlot locations over 18 days.
It’s a small part, but you get it. The director sends you the portion of the screenplay with your character in it. Some of your scenes consist of interactions with George, the protagonist. One of the lines you deliver to a supporting character is: “is your God a child molester?” You probably don’t think much of it.
You’re on the set for three days and get paid $500 for your troubles. A year and a bit later, an extended 14 minute trailer/mash-up for the film appears online but, weirdly, it is now called Innocence of Muslims.
You’re watching it, probably disappointed by the dodgy production values. It’s got clumsy edits, shameless overacting, ludicrous use of green screen technology and a thick, choking air of amateurism. You’re nine minutes in and hey – that’s you! Only that’s not your voice and the line has changed. Your character now says “is your Muhammad a child molester?”
“You’re nine minutes in and hey – that’s you! Only that’s not your voice and the line has changed”
You realise “George” is actually the Prophet Mohammed. The trailer portrays him in extremely provocative ways — as a phoney, an idiot, a philanderer, a blood-soaked sword-wielding psycho who yells things like “every non-Muslim is an infidel! Their lands, their women, their spoils are our spoils!”
Nothing much happens until two and a bit months later, on the 11th anniversary of 9/11. A new one and a half minute edit of the trailer, dubbed in Arabic, emerges. All hell breaks loose.
A furious crowd of protestors in Benghazi, Libya, rally against what they consider deeply blasphemous US anti-Islamic propaganda. Protestors storm the US consulate and kill four diplomats, including the American ambassador to Libya.
Follow-on protests spread across the world, from Muslim countries to as far away as Sydney, Australia, where on Saturday protestors clashed with around 150 police officers, leaving six police and 17 others injured. Photographers capture a child barely taller than a pram holding a sign that reads “behead all those who insult the Prophet.”
There are funerals. More protests. International headlines. President Obama and Hilary Clinton and hundreds of other leaders across the world make statements. Turns out the director you met and collaborated with used a fake name, and his real identity is reportedly that of an American-Egyptian Coptic Christian with experience in bank fraud and meth manufacture.
There are plenty of bad shoots in the movie business. There are plenty of shoots where cast turn up, envision how the finished product will look and are bitterly disappointed when they see the results. But the shock that hit Innocence of Muslims’ cast and crew such as small time actor Cindy Lee Garcia (who has been vocal about her feelings) and the knowledge she was duped like a tipsy self-funded retiree in Vegas exists on a whole ‘nother level.
They can be comforted, at the very least, by telling themselves that this sloppy slap of gutter trash antagonism will almost definitely never see the light of day as a feature film, and not just because anybody who produces it has a good chance of copping a fatwa and resting with the soil six feet under.
For one thing, there is no reliable evidence that such a film even exists. For another, the project has already achieved what it set out to do: whip up an ideological storm of fury, anger, violence and bigotry, and spread it the world over.
All of a sudden that whole ‘becoming an actor’ thing doesn’t seem so appealing to Cindy Lee Garcia.