All the scenes featuring Jesus Christ in the Hollywood remake of "Ben-Hur," produced by Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, were cut out before sending it to the censor board of Malaysia so that the Muslim-majority country's Islamic laws were not violated, the film distributor has said.
Neither Downey nor her co-executive producer husband Burnett was aware that United International Pictures Malaysia, the movie's distributors, made the film 11 minutes shorter due to the deletion of all Jesus scenes, according to Belfast Telegraph.
"We submitted into the censor board a studio pre-edited version which was available for countries that do not allow the depiction of prophets on film whether by law or due to local sensitivities," a UIP spokesman told Malay Mail Online earlier. "We learned from past titles submitted to the Malaysian Film Censorship Board that no prophets are allowed to be depicted on film. In Malaysia, previous films such as Noah and Exodus which depicted prophets were banned by LPF."
When Malaysians came to know about the editing, they criticized it on social media, saying Jesus and His actions were central to the plot.
"Woven into the fabric of it is the story of faith," Downey said prior to the movie's release. "It is because Judah Ben-Hur has an encounter with Jesus Christ that Judah's heart is open. There, at the foot of the cross, we see his hardness drop away."
The $100 million film, a remake of the multi-Oscar winning 1959 version starring Charlton Heston and Stephen Boyd, was released in Malaysia on Sept. 15.
"Ben-Hur" is the epic story of Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston), a prince falsely accused of treason by his own adopted brother Messala (Toby Kebbell), who is a Roman army officer. Ben-Hur was forcefully removed from his position and separated from his family and the woman he loves, Esther (Nazanin Boniadi), to spend his life in exile as a slave on a Roman ship.
After being condemned to a life as a slave at sea for five years, a shipwreck results in his eventual freedom. Ben-Hur then meets a wealthy man named Ilderim (Morgan Freeman), who becomes his mentor. He tells Ben-Hur to take revenge against his brother through a chariot race instead of killing him. He then prepares him for the deadly monumental race. The overarching theme of the film, however, is forgiveness, as throughout his journey Ben-Hur encounters Jesus and is changed by His example.
The film has made nearly $100 million, which is less than the earnings of the 1959 version.