DUBAI: Disney and Pixar’s latest film, ‘Buzz Lightyear’, which was due to be released on June 16, has been banned in the United Arab Emirates – one of the most liberal countries in the Arab world – because of its content, including a scene of intimacy between two people of the same sex.
Nearly 14 other countries in the Middle East and Asia, including Lebanon, Egypt, Kuwait and Malaysia, have also banned the film.
While Saudi media authorities have yet to issue an official statement, the UAE’s Media Regulatory Office said the film would be banned for violating the country’s “media content standards”.
According to Variety magazine, “Buzz Lightyear” was never censored in Saudi Arabia, presumably because the producers assumed it wouldn’t be shown.
The real reason for the controversy surrounding the film is said to be a scene featuring a homosexual kiss between Alisha Hawthorne’s character and her female partner – a scene that almost didn’t make it into the film.
On March 9, employees and LGBTQ+ activists at Pixar Animation Studios issued a joint statement to Walt Disney Co management claiming that Disney executives had willfully censored “openly gay affection” in its feature films, reports Variety. According to a source close to the production, the kiss scene was cut from the film but reinstated after the letter.
In a widely circulated video report, Saudi public news channel Al-Ekhbariya went on a hunt for rainbow flag toys aimed at Saudi children.
The reporter asks, “Why do movie producers, like Disney, insist on not deleting a scene with a same-sex kiss that only lasts a few seconds?” And why are they taking the risk of incurring the wrath of a whole market which is obviously not in favor of this? »
While the ban has elicited negative reactions from potential audiences, it nonetheless finds ardent defenders.
‘Umm Lilly’, a Saudi mother of a 9-year-old daughter, says she’s not sure what she should allow her daughter to watch anymore.
She told Arab News: “I don’t even know where to start. I want my daughter to draw rainbows and watch Disney movies innocently – there can’t be subliminal messages in those movies, she’s just a kid. »
As some Twitter users have pointed out, there are huge cultural differences between Western countries and those in the Middle East and Asia – differences that should be respected, especially by a company as influential as Disney.
“There are topics that are very sensitive for people in the region, and I expect that to become more common. Indeed, global content producers promote ideas that are neither supported nor championed in the Middle East,” communications professional Alex Malouf told Arab News.
However, according to an adviser to several Saudi government media commissions, such analysis, made by what he describes as so-called media pundits and Twitter users, is both “superficial and disconnected”.
The media adviser told Arab News: “First of all, the issue is not just about same-sex kissing. The problem with most censors in the Arab world and beyond is the general theme of normalizing same-sex relationships and transgender issues for children who are not old enough to fully understand and form their own opinion.
“The so-called media pundits and Twitter users who argue that Disney should be more sensitive to this idea, because the Arab or Muslim world has different values, are both superficial and out of touch with the reality of what is happening. in America itself.
“A recent study showed that up to 70% of Americans oppose Disney’s policy on wokism ; American citizens have tended to cancel their subscription to Disney+ and many non-Arab and non-Muslim families now feel that Disney is no longer a safe platform for their children,” he concluded, adding that this shows that the debate over Disney content is not unique to the MONA region.
The Saudi media adviser’s observations are true, especially in the United States.
The recent study he refers to was conducted by the Trafalgar Group, a polling firm, which showed that nearly 70% of Americans disapprove of Disney’s promotion of LGBTQ+ and are unlikely to do business with the company.
Just two days ago, a campaign denouncing Disney erected a huge billboard in New York’s Times Square, with the slogan “No Mouse In My House”.
The campaign, titled Rock the Woke, calls on people to boycott Disney for its “leftist political ideology that has nothing to do with entertaining children and families.” »
Meanwhile, in Florida, a bill banning kindergarten through third grade sexual orientation and gender identity education was passed in March.
The bill was heavily opposed by LGBTQ+ advocates and entertainment industry professionals, not to mention Democratic politicians and even the White House.
Disney, however, chose to remain silent. Its employees, however, took to social media to express their outrage and even walked out of offices across the United States in the face of CEO Bob Chapek’s lack of response.
The company’s stance on the bill — or rather the lack of a stance — is quite unique given that tens of thousands of Disney employees are in Florida, home to the world’s largest theme park and largest Disney resort in the world.
Several films have already been banned or censored in the Middle East. Marvel’s ‘Eternals’ was heavily edited in Lebanon to cut scenes of gay relationships, and banned from showing in cinemas in the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait.
Films such as “West Side Story” and “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” have also been banned in several countries in the region, including the United Arab Emirates, for including trans and gay characters.
The United Arab Emirates later lifted the ban on “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness”, opting instead to ban it for those under 21.