Man behind inflammatory film is not Israeli as he claimed

Cars burn inside the US embassy compound in Yemen

Cars burn inside the US embassy compound in Sana’a, Yemen

Following yesterday’s deadly riots across the Middle East, which continued today, ostensibly instigated by an inflammatory anti-Islam film, the murky background of the maker of the film, “Sam Bacile” is emerging. His name is no doubt a pseudonym, and not only is he not Israeli, he is also probably not Jewish. In fact it looks like he might be an Egyptian Copt.  The international media, after first quoting the man’s claim to be a Jewish Israeli, to their credit began to dig further into the mystery man’s background and made some very interesting discoveries.

Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic was one of the first off the mark with his discovery.

From the Associated Press, which previously reported that Sam Bacile was a real person, and an Israeli Jew:

The search for those behind the provocative, anti-Muslim film implicated in violent protests in Egypt and Libya led Wednesday to a California Coptic Christian convicted of financial crimes who acknowledged his role in managing and providing logistics for the production.

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, told The Associated Press in an interview outside Los Angeles that he was manager for the company that produced “Innocence of Muslims,” which mocked Muslims and the prophet Muhammad and may have caused inflamed mobs that attacked U.S. missions in Egypt and Libya. He provided the first details about a shadowy production group behind the film.

Nakoula denied he directed the film and said he knew the self-described filmmaker, Sam Bacile. But the cellphone number that AP contacted Tuesday to reach the filmmaker who identified himself as Sam Bacile traced to the same address near Los Angeles where AP found Nakoula. Federal court papers said Nakoula’s aliases included Nicola Bacily, Erwin Salameh and others…

Nakoula denied he had posed as Bacile. During a conversation outside his home, he offered his driver’s license to show his identity but kept his thumb over his middle name, Basseley. Records checks by the AP subsequently found it and other connections to the Bacile persona.

Cleveland.com has more about “Bacile”, the actors who claim they were misled about the film, and about other persons involved (or not) in the film, including the extremely controversial anti-Muslim Pastor Terry Jones:

Pastor Terry Jones of Gainesville, Fla., who burned Qurans on the ninth anniversary of 9/11, said he spoke with the movie’s director on the phone Wednesday and prayed for him. He said he has not met the filmmaker in person, but the man contacted him a few weeks ago about promoting the movie.

“I have not met him. Sam Bacile, that is not his real name,” Jones said. “I just talked to him on the phone. He is definitely in hiding and does not reveal his identity. He was quite honestly fairly shook up concerning the events and what is happening. A lot of people are not supporting him. He was generally a little shook up concerning this situation.”

[...]

The actors in the film issued a joint statement Wednesday saying they were misled about the project and said some of their dialogue was crudely dubbed during post-production.

In the English language version of the trailer, direct references to Muhammad appear to be the result of post-production changes to the movie. Either actors aren’t seen when the name “Muhammad” is spoken in the over-dubbed sound, or they appear to be mouthing something else as the name of the prophet is spoken.

“The entire cast and crew are extremely upset and feel taken advantage of by the producer,” said the statement, obtained by the Los Angeles Times. “We are 100 percent not behind this film and were grossly misled about its intent and purpose. We are shocked by the drastic rewrites of the script and lies that were told to all involved. We are deeply saddened by the tragedies that have occurred.”

[...]

Bacile told the AP he was an Israeli-born, 56-year-old, Jewish writer and director. But a Christian activist involved in the film project, Steve Klein, told The Atlantic on Wednesday that Bacile was a pseudonym, he was not Jewish or Israeli and a group of Americans of Mideast origin collaborated on the film. Klein had earlier told the AP that the filmmaker was an Israeli Jew who was concerned for family members who live in Egypt.

“Nobody is anything but an active American citizen,” Klein told the Atlantic. “They’re from Syria, Turkey, Pakistan, there are some that are from Egypt. Some are Copts but the vast majority are evangelical.”

Klein did not return phone messages by the AP on Wednesday.

Officials in Israel also said there was no record of Bacile as an Israeli citizen.

Read the rest. It reads like crime fiction, and certainly sounds more interesting than the anti-Islam film itself.

The New English Review brings us the report of how CNN dug into Bacile’s identity, and interviewed some of the actors from the film:

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Bacile identified himself as a 52-year-old Israeli-American real estate developer from California.

He characterized the movie, “Innocence of Muslims,” as “a political effort to call attention to the hypocrisies of Islam,” the newspaper reported.

“Islam is a cancer,” he said. “The movie is a political movie. It’s not a religious movie.”

He said he was backed by Jewish donors, who contributed $5 million to make the film. Based on the trailer, however, the movie, crude and cartoonish, appears to have been produced on a low budget.

Other questions surfaced about Bacile’s claims.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said there was no record of a Sam Bacile with Israeli citizenship.

[...]

A casting call published in July 2011 in Backstage magazine and in other publications for actors identifies the working title of the movie as “Desert Warrior” and describes it as a “historical Arabian Desert adventure film.”

But the 80 cast and crew members involved in the making of the movie said they were “grossly misled” about its intent.

“The entire cast and crew are extremely upset and feel taken advantage of by the producer,” they said in a statement to CNN.

They said they were “shocked by the drastic rewrites of the script and lies that were told to all involved. We are deeply saddened by the tragedies that have occurred.”

An actress in the film, who asked not to be identified, said the original script did not include a Prophet Mohammed character. She said she and other actors complained that their lines had been changed.

The woman said she spoke Wednesday with the producer, who is identified in the advertisement as Sam Bassiel.

“He said he wrote the script because he wants the Muslims to quit killing,” she said. “I had no idea he was doing all this.”

The actress said that the character of Mohammed in the movie was named George when it was shot, and that after production wrapped she returned and read other lines that may have been dubbed into the piece.

A member of the production staff who worked on the film and has a copy of the original script corroborated the woman’s account. There was no mention of Mohammed or Islam, the crew member said.

The Jewish online magazine Tablet gives us even more details about the film and how it was casted:

Based on some of the resumes of the actors in the film, the movie, which was eventually called “Innocence of Muslims,” was initially listed as “Desert Warrior.” The casting call, which went up in August 2011, looked like this:

NOW CASTING SAG and NON SAG ACTORS for “DESERT WARRIOR.” Director Alan Roberts.

Historical desert drama set in Middle East. Indie Feature film shoots 18 days in L.A. in August. Studio and backlot locations.

Male Roles: DR. MATTHEW (Lead): Middle Eastern Pharmacist, 40-50, intelligent, family man; GEORGE (Lead); 40-50, Middle Eastern warrior leader, romantic, charismatic; YOUNG GEORGE (featured) 18-22; PRIEST (featured): 60-70, bearded; ABDO (featured), 60-70, Elder tribe leader; ISRAELI MEN 30-50 (featured); WARRIORS (featured) 18-50, Various Middle Eastern types, bearded.

Female Roles: CONDALISA (featured) 40, attractive, successful, strong willed; HILLARY (featured) 18 but must look younger, petite; innocent; YOUSTINA (featured) 16-18, Daughter of doctor; MIDDLE EASTERN WOMEN (Various Featured Roles) 18-40, attractive, exotic; OLDER WOMAN (featured) 60-70, feisty.

Please place Role desired in SUBJECT: line of email.
Indicate SAG or NON-SAG
Require phone contact for immediate interview in Beverly/LaCienega area.

Note that the director listed is Alan Roberts and not Sam Bacile. However, the company who carried out the casting call was named Pharaoh Voices, Inc, a California company whose listed president is one Youssef Basseley (not a far phonetic cry from Bacile). Youssef Basseley also appears in a California court case involving a guilty plea to the crime of bank fraud. Meanwhile, variations of Sam Bacile/Basseley appear on other resumes of the actors in the film, listing him as the director or producer.

According to one of the film’s actors, the actors were duped by producers about the nature of the film. Based on the casting call above, that seems highly plausible. A comment made by one of the film’s actresses on YouTube seems to corroborate this claim:

Yes things did not turn out at all like i thought they would, I was edited into parts, i have not even seen the whole movie. My only role was that of a mother loosing [sic]  her daughter. And I am on my way to heaven . I am a Christian servant of the Lord God Jesus Christ is my Savior.

Read it all. There’s plenty more at the link.

As I said above, this entire story reads like something out of crime or spy fiction. And while all this is quite entertaining in its way, let us not forget that the film crude propaganda led to the violent riots that resulted in the murder of the American Ambassador to Libya.  And Bacile’s claim to be Jewish has now endangered Jews as well, as Jeffrey Goldberg wrote in conclusion to his post (my emphases):

So, if this is true, then a group of Christians, or at least one Christian, eager to slander Muslims have endangered Jews. How so? The story that “Sam Bacile” is an Israeli Jew, with “100 Jewish donors,” has spread across the Middle East. It is not possible to withdraw such a story. The onus for violence is on the people who commit violence, of course. But if true, this fiction that the anti-Muhammad movie was a Jewish production is cowardly and despicable. Alas, “Sam Bacile” could not have spread the apparent fiction that Jews were behind this film without the help of the Associated Press and The Wall Street Journal, which both reported, without independently checking, “Sam Bacile”s claim to be Israeli.

I’ll give Honest Reporting the last word:

Those responsible for the brutal death of US Ambassador Chris Stevens needed little excuse to attack the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya and indeed, it appears to have been a pre-planned assault by Al-Qaeda terrorists. However, the trigger appeared to be a shoddy movie aimed at Muslims and the prophet Mohammed has made headline news and focused on one self-described filmmaker Sam Bacile who claimed to be an Israeli Jew.

From there, it is but a short path to creating a dangerous linkage between the film and Israel. For example, writing in the Daily Mail, John R Bradley states:

Offensive, insulting and childish, it may have been intended to help Israel by exposing the threat of Islam. But it is only serving to threaten Israel’s immediate security.

Why is it automatically assumed that what is bad for Muslims is good for the Jews? Not to mention that this sort of false linkage puts Israelis and Jews at even greater risk of violence from Islamic extremists and terrorists.

This entry was posted in Media and journalism, Mideast news and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Add your comment here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s