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Mustapha Al Akkad (1935)

 Mustapha al-Akkad was born and raised in Aleppo. He studied methods of staging motion pictures and television productions and graduated with a degree in Theatrical Arts from University of California in Los Angeles. He began visiting studios in Hollywood, searching for a job, and was hired as a production assistant by director Sam Peckinpah. He began work in MGM on the movie Ride the High Country then moved to CBS News Department. Under Peckinpah’s encouragment, he produced his own show on CBS called “As Others See Us.” He then formed Akkad International Productions to produce and direct documentaries and feature moviews. One of its documentaries Ceaser’s World was a big hit and was broadcasted throughout the USA, enabling him to open offices for his company in Beirut, London, and Hollywood. In 1972, he founded Filmco International Production and used it to produce and direct his first blockbuster in the Arab world called al-Risallah (The Message). The movie was released in 1976 and it was a huge hit in the Arab world, prompting him to make an English version of it for release in the USA. It would star Anthony Quinn as Hamza, the uncle of Prophet Mohammad and be called Mohammad the Messenger of God. Quinn’s co-star was Lauren Papas as Hind, the wife of the Mecca notable Abu Sufyan. It was the first time in movie history that a feature film with leading names deals with the Muslim community and the beginings of Islam. The movie received negative reviews in the USA, ignited by the Zionist lobby that was appauled by an Arab working in the US mass media. The movie showed briefly in a few cinemas before it was brought off the big screen due to poor sales at the box office. Although filmed in 1976, the picture was not released until 1979, coinciding directly with Ayatollah Khomeini's rise to power in Iran and the abduction of American diplomats at the US Embassy in Tehran. To the American public, Messenger of God seemed like a big propaganda campaign for Khomeini's Islamic state, which most of the Western world considered to be "terrorist." Akkad received numerous death threats from radical anti-Islamic groups and Zionist organizations in the West, and was accused of trying to market terrorism in America.

 

From al-Risalah and Mohammad: the Messenger of God, Mustapha al-Akkad went on to produce and direct his bestseller, Lion of the Desert in 1981, also staring Anthony Quinn. This movie covered life and struggle of Libyan nationalist Omar al-Mukhtar, who led an armed revolt against the Italian occupation of Libya and who Benito Mussolini executed in 1932. Akkad again faced a somewhat hostile American public because the movie had been funded by Libyan leader Mu’ammar al-Quaddafi, who like Khomeini, was viewed with scrutiny in the West. The movie stared Anthony Quinn as Mukhtar, Oliver Reed as General Gratsiani, the officer in charge of crushing the Libyan revolution, and Rod Steiger as Benito Mussolini. The impressive cast was not enough guarantee to turn his movie into a blockbuster, but it appeared many times on national US television and was a bestseller in the Arab world. It was latter dubbed into Arabic and released in the Islamic world, becoming an overnight classic.

 

In 1978, Mustapha al-Akkad produced his long-time Hollywood classic Halloween. A low-budget horror movie, it cost no more than $300,000 but upon its release in 1978, was an instant hit in the USA. He was initially inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and its leading lady Janet Leigh and hired Leigh’s daughter Jamie Lee Curtis to play the leading role. Curtis was then a rising actress and hadn’t become famous in Hollywood. In Akkad's own words, Halloween was a movie where, "horror is based on suspense--there is nothing of the blood, gore, and special effects." The movie was such a hit that Akkad went on to produce seven other sequels, the last of which was released in the USA in 2002. Wanting to impress moviegoers, Akkad increased the budget of his movies from $300,000 in the first Halloween to $15 million in the first sequal that was released in 1981. In 1986, he produced a comedy movie called Free Ride but the movie had a poor cast and poor plot, and passed by unnoticed in Hollywood. In 1987, he produced another horror movie called An Appointment with Fear but it also was a flop at the box office. United States and began work on low-budget pictures in Hollywood. In 2001, Akkad began preparing for his third epic, Salaadin. The movie is expected to be a high-budget production in Hollywood, starring Sean Connery as the Islamic Sultan Salaadin. Following the September 11, 2001 attacks on Washington and New York City, the Pentagon purchased many copies of Messenger of God to better understand the Islamic faith and prepare the US troops for their war against the Muslim Taliban regime in Afghanistan.


 

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