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Neil Gaiman Posts Note From Actress With A Role In 'Innocence Of Muslims'

Details are still emerging about the people who made Innocence of Muslims, a purportedly feature-length film whose online trailer has ignited anti-U.S. protests and violence in Egypt, Libya and other nations. Some of the actors involved have publicly rejected the film — and that list now includes actress Anna Gurji, who asked writer Neil Gaiman for help in making her story public.

As Mark wrote earlier today, the family of the man behind the film, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, seems to have joined him in hiding. And Nakoula, who is on probation for fraud, is "a naturalized U.S. citizen of Egyptian descent and a Coptic Christian," as Patch.com describes him.

This morning, Gaiman posted "A Letter from a Scared Actress," which he introduced by explaining that he met Gurji a few years ago, when she contacted him before she moved to the United States from the Republic of Georgia. She later auditioned for a part in a film that the writer will be in.

"So I've acted with Anna and spent time with her," Gaiman writes. "She's a good sort."

The actress recently sent Gaiman a note saying that "something very bad happened" — and she needed help and advice.

"Last summer I auditioned for an indie low budget feature movie and I landed a supporting role," Gurji wrote, according to Gaiman. "The movie was about a comet falling into a desert and ancient tribes fighting over it for they thought that the comet had some magical powers."

"A year later, the movie was dubbed (without the actors' permission), the lines were changed drastically and the movie was morphed into an Anti-Islam film. Even the names of the characters were changed. And the character I had scenes with GEORGE became MUHAMMAD."

You'll likely recognize the film at Innocence of Muslims. And the actress's story matches details provided by Cindy Lee Garcia, a California actress who told Gawker, "It was going to be a film based on how things were 2,000 years ago.... 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."

Both actresses say their voices were dubbed at various points in the film — for instance, the word "Muhammed" was inserted into the audio as they spoke.

Responding to Gurji, Gaiman suggested she write a letter explaining her participation in the film. She responded with a highly personal account of the production, and her own life.

After auditioning for the part of "Hilary" in the summer of 2011, Gurji writes, she got the job. Filming took place in August of the same year. And while she never received a full script, Gurji says that she never had any reason to doubt the project was anything other than an indie film called "Desert Warrior."

"The director Alan Roberts even had plans that with this low budget product he would be able to get some more money to make a good quality version," she writes.

Time passed without word of a premiere; then the extended trailer for the film appeared online, meeting a violent reaction in the Middle East.

"I feel shattered," Gurji wrote. She later added, "I want to send my condolences to the families and friends of those who lost their lives. Everything happens for a reason, they say. I believe this is a trap of evil to separate us from our humanity. We must stray strong and not forget that violence has not been able to get us anywhere spiritually and has not been able to make the world a better place."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.