Netflix’s long awaited entry into Arab market stokes anger with supernatural teen drama
It was hailed as a game-changer, Netflix’s long-awaited entry into the Arabic-language market. But Jinn, the programme named after mythological Arab spirits borne of smokeless fire, has sparked an outcry and been branded "pornographic" in what is being seen as a misfire by the entertainment giant.
The programme, which shows its Jordanian teenage stars kissing, swearing, drinking and using drugs, prompted viewers to post critical reviews online, with one calling it "horrible, distasteful, and borderline pornographic." Western programmes featuring similar content are regularly viewed by Middle Eastern audiences, but such scenes are unheard of in Arabic-language dramas.
The Jordanian tourism ministry condemned its “lewd scenes” as “a contradiction of national principles”, the country’s leading Islamic cleric called it “a moral degradation”, and the attorney general demanded the cyber-crimes unit “take immediate, necessary action” to pull the show from Netflix.
Jinn follows a group of students on a school trip to Petra, the historical archaeological city in the west of the country. While there, rebellious Mira, struggling to recover from her mother’s death and trying to fend off her pushy boyfriend Fahed, inadvertently summons an ancient spirit, the jinn Kedras, who swears to protect her.
Meanwhile, bullied and introverted Yassin attracts a more malevolent jinn, Vera. The spirits follow the teenagers home to the capital, Amman, causing a spate of mysterious deaths. Jinn‘s stars have faced vitriol online, in particular Salma Malhas, the young actress who kisses two men during the series.
The hashtag #punish_jinn began circulating on social media shortly after its release in June. Some young viewers, however, have jumped to Jinn’s defence, saying conservative critics have no idea what Arab youth really do in their spare time.
Jinn has left more than just a bad taste behind for Jordan’s filmmakers. The country’s authorities, angered by the content of the show, have tightened regulations on filming.
They now demand to see a full script rather than a synopsis before granting permission and are levying significantly higher fees.
The company’s next project, AlRawabi School for Girls, was due to start filming in Jordan this year, but has been postponed.
Industry insiders say Netflix’s foray into the growing Arab language market was a serious miscalculation, and that it failed to understand Jordanian social mores before embarking on its first Arabic-speaking project.
Jinn had the right idea but the wrong execution, in the opinion of Christa Salamandra, an Arab media expert at the City University of New York.
“It was a bad calculation… to produce something so weak [when] you have a really sophisticated audience here,” she told The Telegraph. “I have no idea what Netflix was thinking, it really is a curiosity, you’d think they would have done research.”
Jordanian filmmaker Zaid Bawab believes the controversial content was actually a publicity stunt gone wrong.
“Everyone is criticising it, but at the end of the day, everyone is watching [it] and the series has become a topic of conversation in every Jordanian household,” says Bawab.
Netflix did not confirm a start date for AlRawabi School for Girls, but said it will continue producing Arabic-language content.
“Jinn seeks to portray the issues young Arabs face as they come of age,” a Netflix spokesperson told The Telegraph. “But we understand that some viewers may find it provocative and as always will listen to that feedback as we invest more in local Arab content for the region.”
Click Here: State of Origin Jerseys