On March 23rd 2021, Focus Features announced that it had picked up worldwide distribution rights to Timur Bekmambetov’s thriller Profile, a film which first premiered in 2018. It tells the following story: ‘An undercover British journalist infiltrates the online propaganda channels of the so-called Islamic State, only to be sucked in by her recruiter.’
9th April 2021
For the attention of Focus Features (distributors), Timur Bekmambetov (director, co-writer, producer), Mariya Zatulovskaya, Igor Tsay, Rick Sobalvarro and Adam Sidman (executive producers).
We’re not surprised that a film like Profile exists. There is growing statistical evidence and research to support what our communities have always anecdotally known to be true: there is an obvious media bias towards narratives about Middle Eastern, North African, South Asian and Muslim people which centre war, oppression, displacement, and terrorism.
What’s disappointing is that despite the widespread societal reckoning with systemic racism following the Black Lives Matter movement and Stop Asian Hate campaign, Focus Features has decided to acquire Profile for worldwide distribution next month - three years after the film originally premiered in 2018.
This is a glaring example of opportunistic profiteering which contradicts Focus Features’ stated mission to “inspire human connection” through diverse storytelling. Just because Profile is based on the true story of a journalistic investigation does not mean this subject needs to be revisited - yet again.
Radicalisation has destroyed lives and destabilised countries. We don’t need to “wait and see” the film to know that it will not meaningfully address the complex socioeconomic causes of radicalisation in young people. The marketing alone relies on damaging tropes without any regard for the harm this will cause.
When audiences only know to associate us with violence and oppression, it becomes easier for politicians to subject us to inhumane immigration enforcement, disproportionate surveillance and religious persecution through blatantly racist and Islamophobic legislation.
A terrorist character doesn’t amount to racism or Islamophobia, but we need to consider Profile within the repetitive media spotlighting of narratives which foster prejudice and hate towards our communities. Every negative portrayal - and there are far more than most people realise - chips away at our humanity and safety while reinforcing our perceived “otherness”.
USC Annenberg’s study into Inequality in 1300 popular films between 2007-2019 found that the prevalence of Middle Eastern and North African characters on screen was never higher than 3.4%. Only 1.9% of Netflix’s original series creators were from Middle Eastern and North African backgrounds. In 2018 (when Profile premiered), 47% of all religious hate crime offences registered in England and Wales targeted Muslims. When the statistics are so abysmal, it’s never been more urgent to counter decades of hateful representation with nuanced narratives.
We hope that Focus Features uses this opportunity to reflect and reconsider their distribution of Profile. It’s time for creators, commissioners and media gatekeepers to reevaluate their hiring practices in order to help rewrite the narrative. There are many organisations, including MENA Arts UK, advocating for artists who are ready to tell stories that inspire, celebrate and spotlight our rich cultural diversity.
Enough is enough.
title / organisation
Case Nicholas Cypert
Foreign Affairs theatre company
Co-Artistic Director / Foreign Affairs theatre company
Writer & Activist