Netflix series draws ire in Jordan

‘Jinn,’ the first Arabic series on the entertainment platform, pushes cultural boundaries.

June 19, 2019 18:27
3 minute read.
The Netflix logo is shown in this illustration photograph in Encinitas, California

The Netflix logo is shown in this illustration photograph in Encinitas, California. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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“Jinn,” the first Netflix series in Arabic, premiered last week to quite a stir in Jordan. The five-episode season is about two diametrically opposed jinns (spirits), one good and one bad, who interfere in the lives of a high schoolers in the country.

The program has touched on cultural sensitivities by depicting teenagers kissing and using foul language. This has underscored tensions in Jordanian society between the more liberal, secular population and the more conservative religious population.

In a Facebook post, Jaafer Yusuf Altarawneh wrote that the show and the authorities that allow its production are “far from our national culture and it [the show] justified unacceptable behaviors.”

Award-winning Palestinian columnist and former professor of journalism at Princeton University Daoud Kuttab, who runs the Community Media Network in Amman, contends that part of the cause for outrage is that the show uses Arab actors as opposed to a foreign cast.

He told The Media Line: “I think it reflects a refusal to face reality, a disconnect from the changes due to the digital revolution and hypocrisy because people don't mind watching certain scenes on non-Arab programs but become sensitive once it is carried out by Arab men and women.”

As Netflix Middle East North Africa (MENA) told The Media Line in a statement: “‘Jinn’ covers issues that are found in other forms of local, regional and international entertainment – and available to viewers in the Middle East on other channels.”

Despite the uproar, the program has prominent defenders. They include Jordanian Prince Ali Bin Hussein, who tweeted that people should be focused on solving “real” problems instead of a fictional show.

The controversy surrounding Jinn highlights the tension between religious and secular Jordanians and their struggle to live harmoniously.

“Let's respect people and their differences, because Jordan can house all categories, beliefs and lifestyles as long as they are peaceful…” Bin Hussein said in his tweet.

The Royal Film Commission in Jordan, which helped coordinate the show’s production, said in a statement on Facebook: “There is a wide discrepancy in people’s reactions and comments on Jinn – positive and negative – among Jordanians…. These divergent opinions reflect the diversity of Jordanian society, and it is a positive diversity.”

At the same time, the commission is “look[ing] into” the various demands by lawmakers and others to remove the show.  
For Netflix, the purpose of production was to create a captivating show that people could relate to rather than making a social statement.

“We’re in the business of entertainment, not the media or politics…. [‘Jinn’] is also still fundamentally fictional entertainment,” Netflix Middle East told The Media Line in an email.

“Unlike traditional broadcasting or cable TV, only members can watch Netflix – and they choose exactly what shows to watch,” the email went on. “People from all around the world have told us how much they love the wide range of high-quality content that Netflix offers – and the fact that they decide what, when and where to watch. There are ratings and detailed information on each show so members can make informed decisions about what’s right for their families, as well as a PIN-code system to ensure kids can’t watch content their parents consider inappropriate.”

As of now, Netflix does not plan to remove the show or change it to quell the backlash.

Netflix MENA told The Media Line: “We make our content available to all our members, whatever their country – unless it’s a licensed show, where we only have limited rights, or, in the exceptional cases, where the government has forced us to remove a show.”

The Community Media Network’s Kuttab hopes the show will be the first of many that are not afraid to push the envelope.
“I hope,” he told The Media Line, “it sets a precedent and that it removes the idea of self-censorship that has been handcuffed by traditions and [personal repression].”

(Tara Kavaler is an intern in The Media Line's Press and Policy Studies)

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