Shocked Actress Anna Gurji on Being Used for 'Innocence of Muslims'
What if your face, your likeness, was used for something you not only didn't believe in, but were vehemently against?
That's the bizarre reality for actress Anna Gurji and many of her colleagues on the now-infamous Innocence of Muslims, the anti-Islam film that caused outrage and rioting in Egypt and Libya after clips from the film were aired by an Egyptian television station on September 8.
Last summer -- according to a letter published on the website of author Neil Gaiman, an acquaintance of the actress -- Anna Gurji was cast in a supporting role in a low budget action film working titled Desert Warrior, set two-thousand years ago in Egypt as ancient tribes fight to capture the magic of a meteor that's fallen to earth. But Desert Warrior never saw the light of day. Instead, Gurji would see excerpts online from a film called Innocence of Muslims -- a film which had been gratuitously rewritten and overdubbed in post-production, changing the story (down to the character names) and the message entirely.
It’s painful to see how our faces were used to create something so atrocious without us knowing anything about it at all. It’s painful to see people being offended with the movie that used our faces to deliver lines (it’s obvious the movie was dubbed) that we were never informed of, it is painful to see people getting killed for this same movie, it is painful to hear people blame us when we did nothing but perform our art in the fictional adventure movie that was about a comet falling into a desert and tribes in ancient Egypt fighting to acquire it, it’s painful to be thought to be someone else when you are a completely different person.
Anna Gurji: Publicity photo via IMDb
I can barely wrap my mind around the bigotry and the hatred and the unnecessary violence that's been incited by this bastardization of the art of storytelling.
Had Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, the film's alleged producer (under the pseudonym Sam Bacile), preached into a video camera and uploaded himself to YouTube trashing Muhammed, the world would have likely ignored him. Just another bigot spewing hatred.
Instead, the person who made this preyed upon our understanding that film, like so many storytelling media, is collaborative. That if something has been committed to film, it's been sanctioned and agreed upon by many. A film is a piece of art.
And yet, in this film, a film which according to reports paints a revered religious figure in a violent, lascivious light, the people "speaking" the words and telling the story that incited such violence, had not sanctioned its message.
Anna continues in her letter...
People ask what’s my reaction after seeing that.
Two hours after I found out everything that had happened I gave Inside Edition an interview, the duration of which I could not stop crying.
I feel shattered.
I feel awful that a human being is capable of such evil. I feel awful about the lies, about the injustice, about the cruelty, about the violence, about the death of innocent people, about the pain of offended people, about the false accusations.
Despite the White House's request to consider its removal, the film was found to not violate YouTube's anti-hate-speech guidelines, while the New York Times reports Google, YouTube's parent site, has blocked it in five countries, including Libya and Egypt.
My heart goes out to Anna Gurji and the cast and crew of Desert Warrior. My heart goes out to those who saw the film and were hurt by it. My heart goes out to those that have died. Weaponized art is truly a hard concept to digest.