DUBAI: Disney and Pixar’s latest movie “Lightyear,” which was slated for a June 16 release, has been banned in the UAE — one of the most liberal countries in the Arab World — over content, including a same-sex intimate scene.
Around 14 other countries across the Middle East and Asia, including Lebanon, Egypt, Kuwait and Malaysia have also banned the film.
While Saudi Arabian media authorities have not yet released an official statement, the UAE’s Media Regulatory Office said that the film would be banned for violating the “country’s media content standards.”
According to industry magazine Variety, “Lightyear” was never submitted to censors in Saudi Arabia, presumably because the producers assumed that it would not pass.
The actual reason for the controversy surrounding the film is believed to be one scene that features a same-sex kiss between the character of Alisha Hawthorne and her female partner — a scene that almost did not make it into the film.
On March 9, LGBTQ+ employees and campaigners at Pixar Animation Studios sent a joint statement to Walt Disney Co. leadership claiming that Disney executives had actively censored “overtly gay affection” in its feature films, reported Variety. According to a source close to the production, the report added, the kiss scene had been cut from the film but was reinstated after the letter.
In a widely shared video report, Saudi state-news channel Al-Ekhbariya went on a hunt for toys carrying the rainbow flag targeting Saudi children.
The reporter in the video asks: “Why do film producers, such as Disney, insist on not removing a scene with a same-sex kiss that only lasts a few seconds? And why do they risk upsetting a whole market which clearly doesn’t support this?”
While the ban has been met with backlash from potential audiences, there are also ardent supporters.
“Umm Lilly,” a Saudi citizen who has a 9-year-old daughter, said she was confused at what she should let her watch.
She told Arab News: “I don’t even know where to start. I want my daughter to paint and color rainbows and watch Disney movies. Simple innocence — there doesn’t need to be subliminal messages in them, she is just a child.”
As some Twitter users pointed, out there are massive cultural differences between Western and Middle Eastern and Asian countries — differences that should be respected, especially by a corporation as big and influential as Disney.
“There are subjects which are very sensitive to populations in the region, and I expect that this will become more commonplace as global content producers share ideas that are not supported or advocated for within the Middle East,” Alex Malouf, a communications professional, told Arab News.
However, according to one advisor to a number of Saudi government media committees, such analysis by what he describes as so-called media experts and Twitter users is both “shallow and out of touch.”
The media advisor told Arab News: “First of all, the issue is not just about a same-sex kiss. The issue with most censors in the Arab World and beyond is the overarching theme of normalizing same-sex relations or transgender issues to children who are not old enough to fully grasp the facts and then make up their own minds.
“So-called media experts or the average Twitter users who argue Disney should be more sensitive because the Arab or Muslim world has different values are both shallow and out of touch with the reality happening in America itself.
“There is a recent study that showed that up to 70 percent of Americans oppose Disney’s woke agenda; there has been a huge trend among US citizens to cancel their Disney+ subscriptions and to many non-Arab, non-Muslim families, Disney is no longer a safe platform for their children,” he concluded, adding that this shows the heated debate over Disney’s content is not exclusive to the MENA region.
The Saudi media advisor’s comments hold true, particularly in the US.
The recent study he referred to was done by the Trafalgar Group, an opinion polling and survey company, which showed that nearly 70 percent of Americans disapproved of Disney’s LGBTQ+ agenda and are unlikely to do business with the company.
Just two days ago, a campaign slamming Disney erected a huge billboard in New York City’s Times Square titled “No Mouse In My House.”
The campaign, Rock the Woke, calls for people to boycott Disney for their “leftist political ideology that has nothing to do with entertaining children and families.”
Meanwhile in Florida, a bill preventing education on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through to third grade was passed in March.
The bill was strongly opposed by LGBTQ+ advocates and entertainment industry professionals, not to mention Democrat politicians and even the White House.
Disney, however, chose to remain silent. Its employees, though, took to social media to express their outrage and even walked out of offices across the US in retaliation to CEO Bob Chapek’s lack of response.
The company’s position on the bill — or lack of — seemed curious given that there are tens of thousands of Disney employees in Florida, home to Disney’s largest theme park and resort in the world.
Various films have already been banned or censored in the Middle East. Marvel’s “Eternals” was heavily edited, to cut out scenes of same-sex relationships in Lebanon, and banned from screening across cinemas in the UAE and Kuwait.
Films such as “West Side Story” and “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” were also banned in various countries across the region, including the UAE, for including trans and homosexual characters.
The UAE later removed the ban on “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” opting instead for a 21+ rating.