Is Muslim a Dirty Word in Hollywood?

This week's "Give Me a Break" goes to Sony Pictures, the movie company, for getting so upset about a "bad" word in the title of one of their movies.

The movie is titled "Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World." And apparently that word "Muslim" is a problem.

In the film, the U.S. State Department, which wants the Muslim world to like us, is determined to find out what makes Muslims laugh.

The movie was written by and stars comedian Albert Brooks, playing himself. Summoned to Washington, Brooks is given the assignment: Go to India and Pakistan, write a 500-page report and find out what makes Muslims laugh.

What's controversial about that? The movie is a comedy about humor and cultural differences.

Brooks says he wanted to make this movie because after September 11th, he felt, Americans hated even the word "Muslim."

"A part of me always thought that, you know, what are there, a billion-and-a-half Muslim people on this planet and I never thought that all of them wanted us dead," says Brooks. "So I thought, what could I do to make a movie in, you know, my style, to sort of soften this subject?"

Sony Pictures, the film's distributor, planned to premiere the movie in October. Brooks described screening the movie for Sony executives.

"It went very well," Brooks says. "Posters were made, trailers were made. And then about three months later, on a Monday morning, I get this phone call: 'We can't release the movie with the title.'"

The call came shortly after a Newsweek story in May 2005 claimed that soldiers at Guantanamo Bay had flushed a Koran down the toilet and rioting broke out in the Middle East.

It turned out that the story was wrong; Newsweek retracted it. And the rioting may have been a previously planned anti-American demonstration that had nothing to do with Newsweek. But Sony Picture's president, Michael Lynton, still said he'd refuse to release a film called "Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World."

Brooks says that Sony representatives told him that "the world has changed and we don't really think we should put the word 'Muslim' in the title."

Please! How cowardly. Hollywood used to make lots of big-star, big-budget movies about Arab terrorists, like "Executive Decision," "Rules of Engagement" and "True Lies," but since September 11th, they're rare.

Tom Clancy's best-selling novel, "The Sum of All Fears" is about Palestinian terrorists. But when the movie, starring Ben Affleck, came out, the bad guys became European neo-Nazis.

Studios now routinely meet with Arab-American groups for sensitivity input to avoid demonstrations in front of theaters showing their films.

Sensitivity is good, but now Sony won't even use "Muslim" in a title? Los Angeles Times columnist Patrick Goldstein points out that Sony is the same company that glorifies sex and crass materialism by pushing sleazy movies like "Deuce Bigelow, European Gigolo."

Movies like "Deuce Bigalow" give far more offense to Muslims than "Looking for Comedy ..." would. "Fifty thousand times more than my movie ever could," Brooks says.

I wanted to ask Sony why "European Gigolo" is good to release, but Brooks' film wasn't, but they wouldn't agree to an interview. They did say they wish Mr. Brooks well.

Brooks, meanwhile, says he hasn't gotten any pressure from Muslim groups. In fact, Brooks has been invited to have the world premiere of the film at the Dubai Film Festival in the United Arab Emirates. "And we're going," Brooks says.

Good for him. And good for Warner Independent Pictures for releasing the movie -- with the title intact.

But to Sony … Give me a break!

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