All scenes featuring Jesus Christ in Hollywood's remake of Ben-Hur, produced by Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, were reportedly cut from the film before it made it to the censor board in Malaysia.
The $100 million-dollar remake of the Oscar's favourite 1959 version was released in Malaysia on the 15th of September. Christian Post reports that the film's distributor revealed that this cut was made in order to ensure that the Islamic laws of the country, where Muslims comprise a majority, were not violated.
United International Pictures Malaysia, the movie's distributors, shortened the film by 11 minutes by deleting of all the scenes featuring Christ, and, according to Belfast Telegraph, neither Burnett nor Downey had been aware of it.
Speaking to Malay Mail Online, a spokesperson from United International Pictures explained, "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."
In Malaysia, previous films including Noah and Exodus were banned from screening. When citizens of the country found out about the deleted scenes the movie, they reportedly criticised the move on social media, arguing that the scenes revolving Christ were central to the movie's plot.
Prior to the movie's release, Downey said, "Woven into the fabric of it is the story of faith. 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 story revolves around prince Judah Ben-Hur, portrayed by Jack Huston, who is accused of treason by his adopted brother Messala, played by Toby Kebbell. Ben-Hur is thus forced to spend his life in exile, slaving on a Roman ship, separated from his family and from the woman he loves, Esther.
He eventually meets and finds a mentor in the wealthy Ilderim, played by Morgan Freeman, who encourages Ben-Hur to avenge the insult meted out to him by means of a deadly chariot race against his brother. However, the central theme of the movie is forgiveness, as Ben-Hur meets Jesus along his journey, and experiences a change of heart.