Five South Park Episodes On Islam and Prophet Muhammad Excluded from New HBO Deal26 Jun 2020
Earlier this week, Comedy Central announced that all 23 seasons of its popular animation, South Park, would be available in the new streaming service, HBO Max. However, five episodes spanning across multiple seasons would not be included in the $500 Million deal due to their depiction of Prophet Muhammad or involving humour about Islam.
The removal of the episodes has once again triggered a debate about censorship in entertainment. This is not the first time South Park has been embroiled in controversy over censorship. It has also attracted the ire of the Church of Scientology and the Chinese Government.
Five episodes of the show were not included in the $500 Million streaming deal
Earlier this month, Comedy Central signed a $500 Million deal with the online streaming service HBO Max to bring the popular animated comedy, South Park, into the HBO’s streaming platform. However, entertainment outlets reported that the 23-season package will omit five episodes that depict Prophet Mohammed or involve humour about Islam.
The episodes include Season 5’s Super Best Friends in which the Prophet Mohammed was depicted as a side character and a member of a superhero squad alongside Prophets Jesus and Moses. Notably, the episode did not cause any controversies at the time.
Also omitted were episodes Cartoon Wars Part 1 and Cartoon Wars Part 2 of Season 10; and episodes 200 and 201 of Season 14. Both episodes were heavily controversial at the time, poking at the nature of censorship itself and whether the rules around the depiction of Prophet Mohammed should be followed by non-Muslims and whether those doing so should be threatened with violence.
The controversy around the depiction of the Prophet resulted in Cartoon Wars Part I and II being heavily censored by Comedy Central. The controversy also inspired episodes 200 and 201 where the Prophet does not actually appear, although part of the plot makes references to him.
“The controversial episodes violate a widespread Islamic belief that depictions of Muhammad or any of the other prophets of Islam are forbidden, as they encourage the worship of idols…The prohibitions cover images, drawings, statues and cartoons,” entertainment website Deadline reported.
Is the controversy legitimate or a case of double standards?
Is the omission of these episodes by HBO really censorship or simply a sensible editorial decision taken by a third-party streaming service that reflects its brand values and wide audience? The episodes omitted from the HBO Max deal are available to view for free on the South Park creator’s website.
South Park is no stranger to controversy surrounding censorship and irreverence.
There were concerns that the Church of Scientology could sue South Park creators for the depiction of the organisation in the Season 9 episode, Trapped in the Closet.
Similarly, a Season 23 episode, Band in China focused self-censorship by Western companies for marketing in China.
“You gotta lower your ideals of freedom if you wanna suck on the warm teat of China,” the show’s official Twitter account stated.