One of the social reforms of Mohammed bin Salman was lifting a decades-old ban on cinema screenings aiming at rejuvenating the deeply conservative kingdom.
In 2021, nearly $238 million were spent on movie tickets, up 95 percent from the previous year.
Despite the cinema doors’ opening, homosexuality is still considered a major sin in Saudi society, so films that include LGBT scenes will be automatically banned in the cinemas.
This week, Saudi authorities have asked Disney to remove a “gay reference” from the latest Marvel movie to accept it in cinemas.
The movie, which the Kingdom requires to delete the gay scene, is Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and it is expected to be hitting Saudi cinemas in early May.
Saudi Arabia has asked Disney to cut “LGBTQ references” from Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness movie before it can be screened in the kingdom’s cinema, an official said on Monday, denying reports saying the film has been banned.
According to Nawaf Alsabhan, Saudi Arabia’s general supervisor of cinema classification, Disney has refused to delete a 12-second-scene from the film which is slated for release around the world next week.
The LGBT scene shows a lesbian character, America Chavez, played by the actor Xochitl Gomez, referring to her “two moms.”
“It’s just her talking about her moms, because she has two moms,” Alsabhan said.
“And being in the Middle East, it’s very tough to pass something like this.”
The supervisor added: “We sent it to the distributor, and the distributor sent it to Disney, and Disney has told us they are not willing.”
However, Nawaf Alsabhan denied reports that the movie had been banned outright. He told Agence France-Presse that the film will never be banned.
“There’s no reason to ban the film. It’s a simple edit…so far they have refused. But we haven’t closed the door. We’re still trying.”
The Hollywood Reporter said on Friday that there were unconfirmed reports that the film had also been banned in Kuwait.
“Advance tickets had been removed from sale in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar, but not in the United Arab Emirates,” according to the source.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness was supposed to be released across the Gulf on May 5 as part of its global rollout. However, advanced tickets are no longer at hand on the websites of cinemas in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait, except for the United Arab Emirates, The Hollywood Reporter said.
The film follows on the heels of Eternals, it was banned across much of the Gulf last November as it included a same-gender couple and the MCU’s first gay superhero.
The Hollywood Reporter said it understood that “censors had requested a series of edits to be made that Disney was not willing to make.” However, the film was edited and released in the UAE.
In January 2022, the West Side Story film was also banned in cinemas in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, and Kuwait.
Regional sources told The Hollywood Reporter that the decision was because of the character Anybodys, shown as transgender in the new adaptation and played by nonbinary actress Iris Menas.
Homosexuality is still officially illegal across the Gulf, so films including any LGBTQ indications or supporting gay issues, always fail to get past censors.
Banning Eternals or Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness in the Gulf region reflects the intellectual conflict between these conservative societies and Western Hollywood cinema, which does not have a ceiling and limits for the ideas and characters of its films.
In a previous interview with Al-Estiklal, University Professor of Arab Civilization Ghada Tlili Brahmi said that “the West seeks to pass on homosexual culture to conservative societies that are not open to such ideas.” Brahmi added that “the best way to do so was by an all-star film like Eternals, which could attract millions of young boys and girls around the world, to attack and weaken Islam step by step, Western countries always focus on the Muslim youth and the future generations as they seek to destroy our values and beliefs and most importantly, they intend to devastate the Muslim family.”
The University Professor also said that “it is really weird how European countries reject homosexuality in their countries while calling for respecting it in our societies.” Brahmi concluded to say that “the film spreads not only homosexuality in conservative countries, but also did not respect God and prophets as it embodies ‘super gods,’ which runs against our religious beliefs.”
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