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Misfits: Producer targeted with 'death threat' after criticising UAE influence on film

Rami Jaber said Emirati authorities had made changes to the movie in order to smear Qatar
The film starring Pierce Brosnan is set in a fictionalised version of Qatar called 'Jazeeristan' (FilmGate Productions)

A film producer has alleged that he received death threats amid a dispute with Emirati officials over the content of a movie released earlier this summer.

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Rami Jaber, who helped produce The Misfits and has a leading role in the film, told Al Jazeera that someone speaking in a Gulf dialect of Arabic had threatened to kill him while accusing him of handing over files relating to the movie to the Qatar-based network, an accusation he denies.

"He told me you are talking about your masters and the price will be your life," Jaber said, referring to the unnamed person making the threat. 

According to Jaber, the threat is currently under investigation by authorities in Belgium, where the actor and producer lives.

The film, which was produced by the Abu Dhabi-based FilmGate Productions, has been widely criticised as a propaganda exercise presenting Qatar as a sponsor of terrorism.

Its setting in the fictional state of Jazeeristan is widely understood as a clear reference to Qatar and plays on the name of its most famous broadcaster. 

An investigation broadcast by Al Jazeera's Tip of the Iceberg strand on Sunday revealed that Emirati financiers had used their influence to ensure the movie took an anti-Qatari slant. It said officials had contacted US producers working on the film demanding that they insert the character of the Muslim scholar Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi into the script, portraying him as the leader of "Muslim Brotherhood and the sponsor of global terrorism."

Jaber is involved in a lawsuit with Emirati authorities over the changes to the movie and in one leaked phonecall broadcast during the segment FilmGate's CEO Mansoor al-Dhaheri is heard boasting he could offer Jaber $100m in order to settle the dispute.

Funding 'terrorism'

The film is centred around escaped bank robber Richard Pace, played by Brosnan, who joins a band of criminals known as the 'Misfits' who intend to rob a cache of gold hidden under Jazeeristan's most notorious prison.

But rather than enrich themselves, the aim of the heist is to stop the money from being used by the Jazeeristanis to fund terrorist organisations, the most notorious of which in The Misfits cinematic universe is the Muslim Brotherhood. 

"It’s about preventing that gold from financing terrorism," one character explains to Brosnan's character, although those who have watched the movie have complained that the reason for the gang's altruism remains unexplained.

The not-so-subtle hints at Jazeeristan being a stand-in for Qatar do not end with its name but also include references to actual landmarks within the country, such as the Emadi Hospital and the local police using the red 4x4 vehicles associated with Qatar's Lakhawiya police force.

Abu Dhabi, along with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Egypt, lifted its sanctions against Qatar earlier this year but the two states have long had an acrimonious relationship.

Emirati officials accuse Qatar of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and other political groups that they have proscribed as terrorist organisations. Doha rejects the charges of supporting terrorist groups and the Brotherhood says its activism has been characterised as terrorist by autocratic states as part of their campaigns to stamp out political dissent.  

Box office and critical reception

There is no confirmed figure for how much the movie cost to produce but its box office receipts at the time of publication amount to just over $1.2m with $434,000 of that coming from ticket sales in the UAE.

While the film is available for purchase or rent on the US version of Amazon Prime it has not yet appeared on other streaming platforms, such as Netflix or Hulu, among others.

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Cinemas in Qatar were due to show the movie but it was dropped from listings in early July after details of its plot became known.

The Misfits currently holds a 20 percent critic rating on Rotten Tomatoes and 4.1 on IMDB.

"The characters are bland, the dialogue is atrocious, the action is mediocre, and even the heist is a boring bust," wrote Brian Tallerico in his review for Roger Ebert, adding: "The whole production uses its main setting of Abu Dhabi in ways that feel slightly racist."

On Twitter, those who had watched the movie said the focus on depicting Qatar negatively had come at the expense of its storytelling.

Qatari columnist Reem Al-Harmi said: "(the) UAE has a problem, and it’s called obsession with Qatar".

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.