Home


 

For Arabs, a Man of Renown in Hollywood

From LAT 11/12/05:

'Halloween' producer, slain in Jordan terror attack, depicted Islam positively in other work.

Within Hollywood, Moustapha Akkad was the little-known producer of the "Halloween" horror movie series.

But within the Arab American world, he was the famous filmmaker whose movies defied stereotypes and portrayed Islam in a positive light.

On Friday, the community mourned Akkad, 72, who, along with his daughter, was among at least 56 people killed in suicide bombings at three hotels in Amman, Jordan.

"It's devastating," said UCLA law professor Khaled Abou El Fadl, a longtime friend of Akkad. "Terrorism that claims to be Islamic-motivated has killed so many of the gifted assets of the Muslim world. Here it claims another remarkably creative, intelligent and passionate humanitarian."

"He was known as Mr. Halloween … he wore that cloak reluctantly," said Paul Freeman, who attended UCLA with Akkad and produced four of the "Halloween" movies. "That didn't fit the image he'd want to be remembered by, but he accepted it because so many people enjoyed the movies."

Hollywood films have long portrayed Arabs as "bombers, billionaires and belly dancers," said Anthony Saidy, interim president of the local chapter of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, which honored Akkad for his work.

Irwin Yablans, who partnered with Akkad on "The Message" and "Halloween," said they worked well together, despite having widely different backgrounds. "Here was a Jew and an Arab, and we had tremendous success," Yablans said.

Akkad was steeped in Middle Eastern history but was not involved in politics or deeply religious, Yablans and others said. But he didn't hesitate to talk about either subject.

"He'd like to be remembered as a guy who tried to do things to show that the Arab world wasn't all evil … that there was goodness to the religion," Freeman said. "For all practical purposes, he was the only Arab producer in Hollywood, at least of that stature. He was the David Lean of the Middle East; he was regarded like that in that part of the world."

Former Jordanian Prime Minister Tahir Masry was a good friend, and had eaten lunch with the producer the day of the bombings. Masry visited Akkad at his hospital bedside before he died.

"He had a good sense of what he wanted to do," Masry said. "He wanted to establish an Arab cinema production company to make big productions about Arab history and historical figures."

Akkad traveled to the Middle East often, most frequently to Lebanon to visit his 34-year-old daughter, Rima Akkad Monla, a USC graduate who married a Lebanese man and had settled in Beirut.

Amar Mansour, a close friend who lives in San Diego, said Akkad was a generous man who spent his free time with his family and friends and doing charity work. "The community is devastated," she said Friday. "He is a legacy."

The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion

I met producer Moustapha Akkad at his Century City office March 26, 2002. Among many subjects, we talked about Jewish control of the media.

Moustapha: "The media runs the world. Absolutely. No tanks or planes. The media and the public companies. This is what The Protocols of [the Learned Elders of] Zion [is all about].

"The Zionists, last century, were persecuted in Europe. So they immigrated to the United States. They had a target. They were united. And they did not permit [statements] critical of Zion. They went all the way to control the world and to control the minds of the people through the media. There's a lesson to learn from them.

"They have control of the media here. We know it. They did not do it through tanks or machine guns. They planned of course. They united. Did you see Pat Buchanan's book [The Death of the West: How Dying Populations and Immigrant Invasions Imperil Our Country and Civilization]? He makes sense."

Luke: "Yes, he's a sharp guy. He doesn't mind telling it like it is, no matter how controversial."

Moustapha: "There is a red line if I get into the issue of Israel but the Jews, like everyone else, wants to make money. Hollywood is not ethnic. There's English, Irish, Spanish, French, Roman..."

Luke: "But movie and TV producers are 70% Jewish."

Moustapha: "Yes. The studios are. That control is financial but not the creative aspect. You can't be more Jewish than Miramax [owned by Disney and operated by Bob and Harvey Weinstein, distributed last two Halloween films]. They financed me and I did it. But probably if I did something about Israel, they would not. So I get financing from overseas, such as when I did The Message."

Read this Anti-Defamation League link on Jews in Hollywood, and the Protocols of Zion.

Moustapha is best known for producing the eight movies of the Halloween franchise. He also directed two movies about the Arab-Islamic world, which have made him a hero in that part of the world - 1976's The Prophet and 1980's The Lion of the Desert.

I found these interesting links about Akkad on the net:

From Kult Movie Maximus: "Moustapha Akkad?", you might wonder. "Wasn't he the guy that produced John Carpenter's Halloween series and never done anything else?" Well yes and no. Akkad is a Syrian-born filmmaker who has two ambitious epic films to his name. His first, the relatively forgotten film The Message, detailing the coming of Mohammed and the Koran, was understandably a huge success worldwide. Over the next four years, Akkad somehow persuaded Libyan dictator Molomar Qaddafi (sp?) to invest $35 million dollars into the sweeping war epic Lion of the Desert... which upon its release grossed about $1 million dollars worldwide. One of the largest financial disasters in history, though one of the greatest films I've seen... how does this make sense? Beats me..."

From Laurie Goodstein's article in the November 1, 1998 New York Times: After years of virtual invisibility, Arab-Americans are finally finding prominence in Hollywood movies -- as terrorists and villains. They are only the latest in a long line of ethnic groups and nationalities cast in stereotypical bad-guy roles, from American Indians to Germans to Japanese to African Americans to Russians.

"We cannot say there are no Arab and no Muslim terrorists," said Moustapha Akkad, an Arab-American producer and director who was born in Syria and who has worked in Hollywood for 45 years. "Of course there are.

"But at the same time, balance it with the image of the normal human being, the Arab-American, the family man," Akkad said. "The lack of anyone showing the other side makes it stand out that in Hollywood, Muslims are only terrorists."

Earlier in his career, Akkad produced and directed two films portraying Muslims as heroes. "The Message" (1977) told the story of the beginning of Islam, and "Lion of the Desert" (1981) starred Anthony Quinn as the real-life Bedouin leader Omar Mukhtar, who fought Mussolini's invading troops in the deserts of Libya. But Akkad said that raising money for such films was difficult, and that to achieve financial success and creative freedom, he had had to turn to another genre. He is now better known as the executive producer of all seven movies in the "Halloween" horror series, the most recent, "Halloween H2O," released in August.

................

Moustapha carries himself in a regal way and he speaks slowly and confidently.

Moustapha: "I was born and raised in Aleppo, Syria. I wanted to be a film director in Hollywood. That was the joke of the town. We were an average family. My father worked as a government employee in customs. My father said, 'If you want to go, I can not really help you.' I had an American theater arts teacher Douglas Hill and he got me into UCLA. In 1954, when I was 18, I came to the airport to leave. My father said goodbye and put $200 in one pocket and a copy of the Koran in the second pocket. 'That's all I can give you.'

"I attended UCLA for four years and graduated in 1958. At the time, UCLA had the best film program. They had three productions per semester. USC at the time was not as rich as UCLA and the cinema department was smaller. If you wanted to do a film, you loaded up your station wagon and went to shoot. The New Wave [of filmmaking] developed at the time. The more realistic documentary approach to filmmaking. I wanted to expose myself to that and I went to USC for three years for my Masters.

"Then I started the starvation period. I applied to the seven giant studios for work and all TV studios and all advertising agencies for a job... Then [Director] Sam Peckinpah wanted to do a movie about the Algerian revolution. So he approached UCLA to help him find a consultant, somebody from that area who speaks the language. They gave him my name and we got started. Then Algeria got its independence and the project was canceled.

"He took a liking to me. He was developing a movie for MGM called Ride the High Country. He asked me to work with him. I was not paid. He always used to tell me to start from the top. 'You went to school for seven years. You can't go to work as a messenger boy. Sit down and write something.'

"I used to sit down and write every day and I'd bring it to him. He'd take it, read it and tear it up. I had applied everywhere for work and I always got the same question, 'What have you done?'

"I remember from my days at UCLA, I used to be invited into American homes. And they always ask you, 'What do you think of the American food?' 'What do you think of the American woman?' 'What do you think about American education?' Everything you think about America, they like to know. I thought that would be a good subject to do a program on - how others see us.

"I made a small presentation to three TV stations to bring an African, European, Asian, and Latin American foreign student, with an American moderator and a different topic every week... The CBS and NBC both wanted it as a public affairs program on Sunday afternoons. NBC offered me $400 a week but no credit. CBS offered me $100 a week and the producer credit.

"So I went to Sam Peckinpah and I told him about my two offers. He asked which one I was going to take. I said, 'NBC.' He replied, and I've never forgotten, 'You sonofabitch. What do you want the money for? Take the credit.' I took the CBS offer.

"Now that I was a producer at CBS, I could call anybody and they'd return my call. I called United Artists and sold them a syndicated travel show, Caesar's World, hosted by Caesar Romero. Every week we traveled to a different country.

"I always advise anyone who aspires to be in this business Sam Peckinpah's advice. When you have something that somebody likes, play dumb on the money aspect. Tell them to talk to your lawyer or agent. But never compromise on the credit."

Luke: "How did you come to make your 1976 book The Message [about the founder of Islam, the prophet Mohammed]?"

Moustapha: "I was making documentaries all over the world. I thought I needed to do something about Islam, which is not understood. At first I thought I'd make a documentary. Then I met Irish scriptwriter Harry Craig. He convinced me we should do it as a feature. I was able to raise the money from the Arab world."

Luke: "How was it received?"

Moustapha: "It was received fantastic but it was not American commercial [fare] for two reasons. You can not see the prophet. I get upset when I see Jesus or Moses portrayed by an actor. To me, you don't touch these things. The film is about Mohammed but he's not portrayed. Therefore, the camera takes subjective angles. It's good for those who know the religion. The movie was a big hit on video.

"Then two years later, I got into another one."

Luke: "How did you raise the money from Moahmar Khaddafy for Lion of the Desert?"

Moustapha: "It was easy. I had the credentials now. And the subject pertained to the Italian occupation of Libya. I had the freedom to work with the material. It was not religious, where you can't show this, you can't say this..."

Luke: "Why do you think it didn't do better at the box office?"

Moustapha: "Publicity about Khaddafy hurt. They politicized it. The critiques [of the film] were good. I believe in the audience. If the audience do not come, I can not [boost the film]."

Luke: "Who distributed the film?"

Moustapha: "This is another thing. We had a hard time finding a distributor because of Khaddafy, prejudice, whatever... United Artists distributed it [around the time of the Heavens Gate debacle]."

Luke: "How did you connect with Director John Carpenter in 1977 to make the first Halloween movie?"

Moustapha: "I was busy doing Lion of the Desert. He said he wanted to make a movie for $300,000. I laughed. You get worried when the budget is high or low. I asked him about the story. He told it to me in four words and I grabbed it. He said, 'Baby sitter to be killed by the boogie man.' The baby sitter part grabbed me because every kid in America knows what a baby sitter is. I told him, 'Let's do it.' I was spending $300,000 a day on Lion of the Desert. I gave John points [percentage of the gross receipts] so he made lots of money afterwards.

"The movie came in on budget. It was John Carpenter's movie. I saw the commercial aspect to it. We distributed it theater by theater, state by state. We made so much money we couldn't believe it."

Luke: "You must've funded it with pocket change from Lion of the Desert."

Moustapha: "Yes. Then two years later, 1980, Dino DeLaurentiis came to me wanting to do a sequel. I said, 'Sequel? This is not television. It's not going to make any money.' They said, 'We'll give you the profit in advance.' So they did and we made Halloween II. It did good. I couldn't believe it.

"They came again. They said, 'Let's do Halloween III.' I said, 'No way.' They said, 'This time we will change it a bit. We will do one without Michael Myers.' I wasn't for it, but I was outvoted. I said ok. That was the big mistake. It was a big flop.

"Then I brought back Michael Myers and the basics, and Halloween IV was a big hit, perhaps the biggest hit [of the franchise]. We made the most money on Halloween I, the biggest box office on Halloween H2O [VII] but we had the most paying customers for Halloween IV.

"Drunk with our success, we did Halloween V a year later. And that was a mistake. A few years later, Miramax came with an attractive offer to do Halloween VI. Due to recent events, we're coming out with Halloween VIII in July.

"This Halloween [series] is a blessing. I feel like a father. Everybody wants to come chop the head of Michael Myers but I love this guy. I always try to keep to realistic stories. Somebody falling from the sky with ten ears and ten eyes isn't scary. But if you're locked inside a house and there's somebody there who wants to kill you, that could happen to anybody. You can relate.

"Why do people pay money to get scared? I asked my 17-year old son. He said, 'Dad, I take a girl with me to the cinema. After five minutes, I'm either grabbing her or she's grabbing me.'

"[Actor] Donald Pleasance was asked by the press if we he was going to keep doing Halloween movies. He answered, 'No way. I'm going to stop at 22.' And that's my answer too.

"With H2O, we chopped off his [Michael Myers] head. But was it really his head?

"This is something where you cater to the kids. Eighty percent of the audience now is kids. Home entertainment has become so sophisticated with the large screen, stereo, satellite, DVD, you can watch any movie a few months later. You can stretch your legs, smoke, drink. So why should adults bother to drive to see a movie? Kids have to go for dating and meeting. At my age [66 yo], you start losing touch.

"When my teenagers talk, I have a hard time understanding sometimes. We were casting Halloween 8. The director [Rick Rosenthal] suggested Busta. Do you know who Busta is?"

Luke: "No."

Moustapha: "I went home and asked my son about Busta. He lit up. 'Busta Rhymes?' He went crazy. I called the office and said, OK, get Busta Rhymes.' He's one of those rap singers with the hair..." And Moustapha fingers curl around the air above his head.

"We got him. Every time we shoot, kids gather around the studio. Another actor suggested was Tyra Banks. Do you know Tyra Banks?"

Luke: "I think I've heard the name."

Moustapha: "See? You're getting grey hair already. Again I went home and asked my kids. [Their voices filled with excitement.] 'Tyra Banks? I'd marry her.' Tyra Banks is a black model who appears in underwear ads.

"When we test the movie, we bring kids. I've lost touch... All I do is preserve the storyline and the atmosphere of horror. But as for casting..."

Luke: "How come you are the one person on all eight Halloween movies? Do you own the franchise?"

Moustapha: "Yeah. I paid for the first one. I guess it's a blessing. I didn't intend to sequels. But I had my lawyer read the contract and they put everything in... At the time, I didn't think of it.

"I spend 90% of my time on the Halloween franchise. If I am to direct, I only want to direct epic historic films. My favorite director when I was a child was Alfred Hitchcock. And then David Lean. I met him while I was student and he gave me advice. I'm now preparing an epic on Saladin and the Crusades, starring Sean Connery. We have a script. Financing is the issue.

"I love history. The best movies are comedies but I'm not good at that. I cannot direct a Western. You have to be able to live it to be able to direct it. Produce it, you can."

Luke: "The current atmosphere post September 11, is that good or bad for your Saladin film?"

Moustapha: "It is very good because Saladin exactly portrays Islam. Right now, Islam is portrayed as a terrorist religion. Because a few terrorists are Muslims, the whole religion has that image. If there ever was a religious war full of terror, it was the crusades. But you can't blame Christianity because a few adventurers did this. That's my message. Always there are fanatics but Saladin protected freedom of religion and different holy places. My sources on Saladin are all from the West. They all admit the chivalry of Saladin. The BBC did a beautiful four hours on the Crusades."

Luke: "Are there other Islamic filmmakers?"

Moustapha: "No. There are Arabic Christians like Mario Kassar."

Luke: "What is it like being a Muslim in Hollywood?"

Moustapha: "No. American citizenship is not an ethnic nationality. I practice my religion more freely here than I could anywhere in the Arab and Muslim world. Here it is not the rule of the majority but the rule of the constitution. Atheist lady Madelyn O'Hair sued the government and the next day, when she won, government schools were not allowed to mention the name of God. You get waves of hatred. You don't blame people after September 11 from having certain feelings against a certain group. That's normal. I was upset about it. Sometimes I am afraid to ride on a plane with someone [who looks like a young fundamentalist Muslim].

"We're living in a free society ruled by a constitution. The United States is like a corporation. The US is the true United Nations. The whole world is represented here. We all have shares. How influential you are depends on how hard you work. But at the end, the media runs the world. Absolutely. No tanks or planes. The media and the public companies. This is what The Protocols of [the Learned Elders of] Zion [is all about].

"The Zionists, last century, were persecuted in Europe. So they immigrated to the United States. They had a target. They were united. And they did not permit [statements] critical of Zion. They went all the way to control the world and to control the minds of the people through the media. There's a lesson to learn from them.

"They have control of the media here. We know it. They did not do it through tanks or machine guns. They planned of course. They united. Did you see Pat Buchanan's book [The Death of the West: How Dying Populations and Immigrant Invasions Imperil Our Country and Civilization]? He makes sense."

Luke: "Yes, he's a sharp guy. He doesn't mind telling it like it is, no matter how controversial."

Moustapha: "There is a red line if I get into the issue of Israel but the Jews, like everyone else, wants to make money. Hollywood is not ethnic. There's English, Irish, Spanish, French, Roman..."

Luke: "But movie and TV producers are 70% Jewish."

Moustapha: "Yes. The studios are. That control is financial but not the creative aspect. You can't be more Jewish than Miramax [owned by Disney and operated by Bob and Harvey Weinstein, distributed last two Halloween films]. They financed me and I did it. But probably if I did something about Israel, they would not. So I get financing from overseas, such as when I did The Message.

"My base, really, is England. I have a studio there, Twickenham. It's not under my name. I did all of my work [on the two films he directed]. My crew was mostly English. The best crews are English."

Akkad's produced such other films as Sky Bandits, Appointment With Fear and Free Ride [1986].

Luke: "How do you feel about being best known for the Halloween films?"

Moustapha: "Only with kids. The adults haven't seen it. But when I'm around kids, I feel good. How I feel depends where I am. When I am with kids, I feel like a king because of Halloween. With adults, they might know me for Lion of the Desert. Within the Arab-Muslim world, I am really big because they see me [as one of them] who's made it in Hollywood."

Luke: "Have you encountered much discrimination as a Muslim in Hollywood?"

Moustapha: "No. I make it very clear. I am proud of it. I don't try to hide it. Many suggested that I change my name. I would not. I respect other religions - Jewish, Christian, atheist... When I see somebody who, because he got married, changes his religion, I lose respect for him. One who's proud of his roots and his heritage, I respect.

"This is something that I practice in my home. When I lock the door in the morning and I leave the house, I am 100% American in my thinking, working... This is where I earned my education, my living, and my faith. Who's going to touch this country? Forget carrying the flags. Look at it from a practical point of view. I live here. My kids live here. My grandchildren live here. So I want security for this country America. It's a matter of practicality, not religion. I am open about it but I have never faced any [discrimination] that I know of. You might find something but I didn't feel it."

Luke: "Did you put a flag on your car after September 11th?"

Moustapha: "No. I hate this flag waving. People who fly a flag are trying to hide something. Why should I fly a flag? America is not a flag. It's a country with a constitution. And anything that affects this country, automatically affects me. I think these terrorists, the Taliban, are a bunch of animals. I thought of them as animals when they blew up those [ancient Buddhist] statutes. I wanted at the time to go hit them."

Luke: "Did you feel any moral qualms about taking funding from Moahmar Khaddafy?"

Moustapha: "No. It all depends on what I do with it. If he put conditions... If I served his regime... At the end, he wanted to make a film about him and his revolution. I turned it down. I don't care where the financing comes from. It's what you make out of it. I can get it from anywhere."

Luke: "Even Osama Bin Laden?"

Moustapha: "I'd take the money from him. But what I do with it, that's what counts. I would correct his outlook and his animalistic approach to the whole religion."

Luke: "And where is your family?"

Moustapha: "I have one sister and one brother in Syria. I have three brothers here. I have four kids, three boys. My son Malek is my big help. He just finished his own film, Psychic Murders. He shot it on digital video. He's accomplished more at his age than I accomplished at that age. I had to earn a living. I told him that he's deprived of the pleasure I have [from struggling]. When I own a car, it's [the fulfillment of] a big dream. When he wants a car, he gets a car."

Mark Steyn in the Jan/Feb 2006 issue of The Atlantic on Hollywood Producer Moustapha Akkad

In an interview with Luke Ford for his 2002 book The Producers, he agreed with the author’s estimate that Hollywood’s muscle was “70 per cent Jewish”, but reckoned he got along fine as long as you steered clear of certain subjects. “The media runs the world,” he said. “No tanks or planes. The media and the public companies. This is what The Protocols Of Zion is all about. The Zionists, last century, were persecuted in Europe. So they immigrated to America. They had a target. They were united. They did not permit [statements] critical of Zion. They went all the way to control the world and to control the minds of the people through the media. There’s a lesson to learn from them.”

Anyone who’s spent any time in the Middle East will have heard that, from Saudi businessmen and Bahraini doctors and Palestinian intellectuals and other urbane educated Arabs of the kind you find in the bars and lounges of the Hyatts and Radissons. But the professed admiration for the cunning of the Zionists is a more unexpected cliché from a man enriched by Hollywood whose children went to Los Angeles high schools filled with the progeny of liberal Jews. With hindsight, Akkad’s “duality” seems more like a professional schizophrenia. And, though he claimed Halloween was nothing more than a savvy commercial decision, for a schlock horrorfest it was, at it happens, very Middle Eastern in its pathologies. Its principal character Michael Myers (no relation to Austin Powers’ Mike Myers, though they’re about the same age) begins his impressive tally of corpses with what can be read as an old-fashioned Muslim “honor killing”: Michael stabs his sister to death after she’s had sex with her boyfriend...

The “duality” of Mustapha Akkad finally came together in one freakish finale at the Amman Radisson. But he’d encountered terrorism once before, nearly 30 years earlier. Many Muslim scholars were outraged by The Message – or, as it was then called, Mohammed, Messenger Of God. Though Akkad had observed the prohibition against representations of the Prophet, even a rumored glimpse of his shadow (which the director had at one time considered) provoked objections. Hamaas Abdul Khaalis, formerly a Seventh Day Adventist called Ernest McGhee, decided to do something about the abomination. A dozen Muslims seized three buildings, and took 120 hostages, including (in an early example of the many internal contradictions of the Rainbow Coalition) the future mayor of Washington, DC, Marion Barry. He was one of a couple of dozen injured. Jewish hostages were abused. A reporter was killed.