Actress in anti-Islam film says she was duped-should the producers of this movie be charged?
LOS ANGELES - The origins of a crudely
made anti-Muslim movie that sparked violent protests in Egypt and Libya
began to slowly emerge on Wednesday, with an actress in the California
production saying she was duped and was unaware it was about the Prophet
Cindy Lee Garcia of Bakersfield, California, who appears briefly in
clips of the film posted online, said she answered a casting call last
year to appear in a movie titled “Desert Warrior.”
“It looks so unreal to me, it’s like nothing that we even filmed was
there. There was all this weird stuff there,” Garcia told Reuters in a
Clips of the movie, posted on YouTube under several titles including
“Innocence of Muslims,” portrayed the Muslim prophet engaged in crude
and offensive behavior. Many Muslims consider any depiction of the
prophet as blasphemous.
Clips had been posted online for weeks before apparently triggering
violent demonstrations on Tuesday at the U.S. embassy in Cairo and
consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in which U.S. Ambassador to Libya
Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed.
The Americans died after gunmen attacked the U.S. consulate and a
safe house refuge in Benghazi in an attack U.S. government officials
said on Wednesday may have been planned in advance. The attackers were
part of a crowd blaming America for a film they said insulted the
Garcia said the film was shot in the summer of 2011 inside a church
near Los Angeles, with actors standing in front of a “green screen,”
used to depict background images. About 50 actors were involved, she
An expired casting notice at Backstage.com listed a film named
“Desert Warrior” that it described as a low-budget “historical Arabian
Desert adventure film.” None of the characters were identified in the
casting call as Mohammad.
“They told me it was based on what it was like 2,000 years ago at the
time of the Lord,” Garcia said. “Like the time Christ was here.”
Several U.S. news organizations on Tuesday night had reported that
the film was produced by a man who identified himself as an
Israeli-American property developer, Sam Bacile. He had told the media
organizations that the film cost $5 million, some of which was paid by
around 100 Jewish donors.
Reuters could not independently confirm his responsibility for the
film, or even that Bacile was his real name, nor could he be located for
casting call listed a man of a similar name, Sam Bassiel, as the
producer, while the director was named as Alan Roberts. Roberts could
not be immediately located by Reuters.
Steven Klein, a southern California man in the insurance business who
described himself as a consultant and a spokesman for the project - but
not the filmmaker - said he believed the name was a pseudonym.
“I’ve met him twice, I don’t know what country he’s from. I do know
he’s not an Israeli Jew and I can only guess he threw that out to
protect his family, which I do know is back in the Middle East,” Klein
told Reuters in an interview in front of his home in Hemet, California,
as he sipped a beer.
Klein, who described himself as a former U.S. Marine, said he advised the filmmaker to go into hiding.
Hate-group tracker the Southern Poverty Law Center has described
Klein as a Christian with ties to right-wing extremists, which he
denies. He said he did not see the film being made, and it could not be
independently confirmed that Klein was involved with the project.
The largely obscure English-language film’s low production values
were evident in its stilted dialogue and wooden acting. Klein said there
was an attempt to screen the full movie at a theatre in southern
California under a slightly different title, but after 30 minutes into
the film no tickets had been sold.
Garcia, who appeared in online clips from the film, said her
character was forced to give away her child to a character named “Master
George” in one scene. The casting call describes a character named
George as a “strong leader” and a “tyrant.”
But in a 13-minute trailer posted at YouTube.com, Garcia’s character
appears to be dubbed over in that scene, with a voice-over for her
character referring to Mohammad instead of George.
YouTube, the video website owned by Google Inc, has restricted access to the film clips in Egypt and Libya, according to Google.
Garcia said she remembered the film’s producer as a man named Sam
Bassil, whom she described as an older man with graying hair and an
accent. She said he paid her with a check. She said she called him on
Wednesday after the protests.
“I asked him why did he do that and put me in a bad position to where
all these people get killed for a movie I was in?” Garcia said, adding
that the man she knew as Bassil told her it was not her fault.
Meanwhile, Morris Sadek, a U.S.-based Egyptian Coptic Christian
activist who said he promoted the film, told Reuters he was sorry U.S.
diplomats had been killed and that his objective had been to highlight
discrimination against Copts in Egypt.
Coptic Christians, who form Egypt’s biggest minority group and
constitute most of Egypt’s Christian population, have had a difficult
relationship with the country’s overwhelmingly Muslim majority.
Conflicts over conversions, cross-faith romances and church-building
have flared in Egyptian towns where turf wars or family rivalries often
loom as large as sectarian loyalties.
Since former President Hosni Mubarak’s removal, Christians have
become increasingly worried after a surge in attacks on churches, which
they blame on hardline Islamists, though experts say local disputes are
often also behind them.
Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox church has condemned some Copts living abroad
who it said had financed “the production of a film insulting Prophet
Representatives from the Coptic Orthodox Archdiocese of North America
did not immediately respond to phone calls requesting comment.
Klein blamed the violence in North Africa on Muslim extremists.
“Do I have blood on my hands? No,” said Klein, who the SPLC said has
worked with a militia at the California-based Church at Kaweah and
conducts drills with a San Francisco-based group named Christian
“Those people are screwballs,” Klein said of the Southern Poverty Law Center. He added he is not “what these people say.”
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