By Mohamad Bazzi
Jordan attack indicates spread of Iraq violence
For a generation of Arabs, Moustapha Akkad’s historical epics became cultural icons the same way “Star Wars” did in the West.
Mr. Akkad was best-known in the United States as the executive producer and driving force behind the “Halloween” horror-movie series. But in the Arab world, he was known as the director of two much-admired films: a history of Islam and the story of a Libyan nationalist leader.
Mr. Akkad, 75, died Friday in a Jordanian hospital from injuries he sustained in one of the suicide bombings that struck three hotels Wednesday in Amman, the capital. The filmmaker and his daughter, Rima Akkad Monla, 34, were attending a wedding reception at the Radisson SAS hotel. She died Wednesday night, leaving behind a husband and two children. Mr. Akkad, who was divorced, also had three sons.
Hours after his death was announced, one Arab satellite channel broadcast his most famous movie, “The Message,” a sweeping history of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. Released in 1976, the three-hour film gained a wide audience in the Arab world because of its sophisticated production and cinematography. The movie cost $17 million, a huge investment for a film at that time.
“‘The Message’ came out at time when most Arab historical films were shoddy and had low budgets,” said Ali Abdullah, a Lebanese writer and critic. “Akkad made his film into an epic by using technology, large sets and thousands of extras.”
To reach Western audiences, Mr. Akkad refused to subtitle the Arabic film. Instead, he made a separate English version starring Anthony Quinn.
Religious leaders praised the movie for its positive portrayal of Islam. For example, Islamic tradition dictates that the prophet cannot be depicted on screen nor can his voice be heard. Throughout the film, actors who interact with Muhammad speak directly to the camera and then nod to unheard dialogue.
“I did this film because it was a personal thing for me,” Mr. Akkad told a newspaper in 1998. “Being a Muslim myself who lived in the West, I felt that it was my obligation, my duty, to tell the truth about Islam.”
Mr. Akkad’s other epic was “Lion of the Desert,” released in 1981. It recounted the story of Omar Mukhtar, a Bedouin leader who fought a guerrilla war against the Italian invaders of Libya from 1911 until his execution by Benito Mussolini’s forces 20 years later. The movie also starred Quinn, who portrayed Mukhtar’s transformation from schoolteacher to guerrilla leader.
Born in Syria, Mr. Akkad moved to Los Angeles at 20 to study filmmaking. He worked as a producer at various studios before starting his own production company in the early 1970s. After he spent years raising money to make “The Message,” he turned to horror films to help finance his other interests.
In 1978, he produced the first of eight “Halloween” movies, directed by John Carpenter and starring a then-unknown Jamie Lee Curtis. The first movie featuring the masked killer Michael Myers inspired a cult following and seven sequels.
Carpenter recalled Mr. Akkad as a “very, very nice man” who gave him creative control of the first “Halloween” movie.
“‘Halloween’ put me on the map, and I’m very sad to hear of his death,” Carpenter said.
When he died, Mr. Akkad was working on an epic about Salahuddin, the 12th-century Muslim warrior who recaptured Jerusalem from the Crusaders. He reportedly had persuaded Sean Connery to play Salahuddin.