The biggest international news story of the month may be based on a total fraud. That's the sinking feeling reporters are getting about Muslim Innocence, the so-called "film" that ignited a flurry of riots from Algeria to Gaza to Egypt to Afghanistan. This morning, the producer of the film was introduced to the world by The Wall Street Journal and the Associated Press as Sam Bacile—an Israeli-American real estate developer who financed his film with $5 million from a pool of 100 anonymous Jewish donors. But from the moment those stories were published, journalists began chipping away at the credibility of Bacile's claims, including his very identity. Now some are doubting if his anti-Islam film is even a film in the first place—a mind-boggling thought given the international uproar it has caused for insulting the prophet Muhammad. Here's the case against its authenticity.
First off, no one has been able to obtain a full-length copy of the film. The only evidence of its existence is in a 13.5 minute trailer on YouTube that is riddled with red flags. As BuzzFeed's Rosie Gray noticed, "The video is a compilation of the most clumsily overdubbed moments from what is in reality an incoherent, haphazardly-edited set of scenes." Just look at the horrid way the desert backdrop is green-screened into the background. This is a film with a $5 million budget?
The Tinseltown pros over at The Hollywood Reporter quickly pounced on the claim. "Though Bacile claims he spent $5 million on the movie — a figure that would put the film's on par with the Toronto festival entrant Julianne Moore-starrer What Maisie Knew — the 13 minutes of footage available online look unprofessional," wrote Jordan Zakarin. "Furthermore, Bacile has virtually no footprint in the Hollywood community. The writer-director-producer has no agent listed on IMDBPro and no credits on any film or TV production." Piling on, the Associated Press took a deeper dive after admitting to being deceived by Bacile. "Several Hollywood and California film industry groups and permit agencies said they had no records of the project," reported Shaya Tayefe Mohajer and Stephen Braun. So there's a lack of evidence of it being a real film. So who is this guy Sam Bacile?
That's an even bigger problem. As The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg discovered when he contacted Steve Klein, a consultant on the film, Bacile was lying about his name and identity. "He's not Israeli, no," said Klein regarding his colleague. "I can tell you this for sure, the State of Israel is not involved ... His name is a pseudonym ... I doubt he's Jewish. I would suspect this is a disinformation campaign." Digging further, the AP notes that "The name Bacile also does not appear in searches of California state licenses, including the Department of Real Estate." Maybe Israeli officials know who he is? Nope! "Officials in Israel also said there was no record of Bacile as an Israeli citizen," reports the AP.
Crazy stuff. But the story gets weirder. This afternoon someone emailed CNN with a statement purporting to represent "80 cast and crew members" of the film; The statement reads:
The entire cast and crew are extremely upset and feel taken advantage of by the producer. We are 100 percent not behind this film and were grossly misled about its intent and purpose," the statement says. "We are shocked by the drastic re-writes of the script and lies that were told to all involved. We are deeply saddened by the tragedies that have occurred.
Oddly enough, that statement decrying the film from "80" crew-members is the strongest evidence yet that it is a real movie. (Would a 15-minute YouTube video really require 80 crew-members?). However, nothing in the CNN story identifies who is speaking for the crew and whether they are who they say they are.
But wait, there's more! One thing you can take to the bank about this email is the anger between the crew and Bacile. In an interview with Gawker's Adrien Chen, an actor in the film, the only actor who has been interviewed so far, says she and the crew were totally misled by Bacile.
Cindy Lee Garcia, an actress from Bakersfield, Calif., has a small role in the Muhammed movie as a woman whose young daughter is given to Muhammed to marry. But in a phone interview this afternoon, Garcia told us she had no idea she was participating in an offensive spoof on the life of Muhammed when she answered a casting call through an agency last summer and got the part.
The script she was given was titled simply Desert Warriors.
"It was going to be a film based on how things were 2,000 years ago," Garcia said. "It wasn't based on anything to do with religion, it was just on how things were run in Egypt. There wasn't anything about Muhammed or Muslims or anything."
Garcia doesn't mention if the movie is full-length, but the fact that she played only a "small role" could support the idea that Muslim Innocence is just a compilation of random clips, as BuzzFeed suggested. Right about now, only one thing is for certain: These are weird times we live in.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.