Sex worker film banned - but widely available

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A risqué film about prostitution hit a raw nerve in Morocco and - despite being banned - leaked raw footage has been viewed by millions online.

"Much Loved" tells the story of four prostitutes in the tourist city of Marrakech. It's fictional but is meant to honestly portray the lives of Moroccan sex workers. But what peeved some Moroccans was not the hardships faced by the women in the film, but rather its nudity and vulgar language.

Thousands were enraged and many created Facebook pages calling for a ban on the film and for action against French-Moroccan film director, Nabil Ayouch. The film, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last month, was then banned by the Minister of Communication who said it "undermines the moral values and dignity of Moroccan women as well as all the image of Morocco."

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image captionNabil Ayouch is an award-winning French-Moroccan filmmaker.

It wasn't just conservative Moroccans who took issue with the movie. Some moderates and liberals, especially women, were also upset. "The film is offensive to Moroccan women," one woman wrote on Facebook. "We don't deny there's prostitution but you can't make it sound like it's that big."

But not everyone in Morocco was dismissive of the film. "It's the reality Moroccans don't want to see," said one man in an online video. Others put the anger this film stirred down to a cultural tendency to avoid airing dirty laundry in public. And despite the ban, there still seems to be a large interest in the film. BBC Trending found clips and copies of the film - including raw footage unseen in the final version - circulating widely online.

In parts of the Arab world, Morocco has a reputation as a destination for sex tourists, and that reputation is not dispelled by "Much Loved". One scene from the film shows two Saudi men sitting in an apartment surrounded by Moroccan prostitutes. One of the sex workers says (while dancing provocatively): "I'm a Moroccan woman and I love the Saudi riyal and adore the dollar." According to reports, a new study by the Health Ministry concluded that there are around 19,000 female sex workers. But in fact 96% of their clients are Moroccan men - not tourists.

Mariam El Maslouhi, a Moroccan blogger and activist, told BBC Trending why she thinks Moroccans reacted so strongly towards the film. "Westerners and French Moroccans loved the film because it gave them a window into a forbidden world, but for people who live in Morocco this is a story we know well and the film didn't offer anything new," she told BBC Trending.

But Maslouhi says she doesn't support the ban: "In this issue of course I stand by Ayouch (the film's director). We can't always just do nice films about Morocco."

Blog by Mai Noman

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