Streaming service HBO Max has banned five episodes of the cartoon show South Park for depicting the Islamic prophet Muhammad, reminding fans that literally every religion is considered fair game to be mocked and ridiculed — except for Islam.
South Park, which began in 1997, has five episodes featuring depictions of Muhammad: “Super Best Friends,” “Cartoon Wars Part I & II,” “200” and “201,” all of which are not included in HBO Max’s lineup, according to Screen Rant.
Along with being banned from the streaming service, the five episodes are also not included on the South Park studios website — with each episode featuring a “currently unavailable” label.
The episode “Super Best Friends,” which originally aired on July 4, 2001, features the character Stan calling upon a team of superheroes to counter magician David Blaine’s suicidal cult known as “Blainetology” — a clear dig at the widely mocked “religion” of Scientology.
The episode’s team of superheroes is made up of the heads of the world’s most popular religions: Jesus, Buddha, Moses, Krishna, Joseph Smith, Laozi, and Muhammad.
Islam’s prophet is also depicted in the episodes “Cartoon Wars Part I & II,” which originally aired in 2006. Both episodes are inspired by real-life events — specifically the controversy surrounding the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, which published a cartoon depicting Muhammad with a bomb as his turban in 2005.
Today is #InternationalBlasphemyRightsDay. It marks the anniversary of the publication of the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons in Denmark, which resulted in violent protests, riots, and more than 250 reported deaths. https://t.co/D1O9nLrnnC.
— Humanists UK (@Humanists_UK) September 30, 2021
The episodes centered around how the fictional town of South Park began panicking when the show Family Guy announced it would be showing Muhammad in its series. The South Park character Cartman argues that depicting Muhammad is offensive to Muslims, while the character Kyle argues that the Family Guy episode should be aired because it is an expression of free speech.
Prior to the episodes being aired in 2006, the creators of South Park were reportedly feuding with Comedy Central over depicting Islam’s prophet. Ultimately, Comedy Central ended up airing the episodes — though the network placed a black title card over the Muhammad sequence.
Nonetheless, HBO Max still banned the episodes despite censorship already being in place.
At the time of the controversy, South Park’s creators — Trey Parker and Matt Stone — asserted that Comedy Central was being hypocritical because most religions were considered fair game to mock, while Islam was not.
Years later, in 2010, Comedy Central censored the most recent depictions of Muhammad in South Park in episodes titled “200” and “201.” In the episodes, actor Tom Cruise recruits 200 fellow celebrities that had previously been mocked in the South Park show to bring a class action lawsuit against South Park for defamation.
Cruise later agrees to drop the lawsuit on the condition that they let him meet the prophet Muhammad. Thus, the “Super Best Friends” from one of the previous episodes return, bringing the most recent depiction of Muhammad.
At the end of the episode, a speech from the character Kyle is also heavily censored — as viewers hear a very long audio bleep — and Muhammad is covered with a big black box, while his name is censored with more audio bleeps.
Despite all of this censorship in the episodes, they are still being banned from HBO Max.