Steven Spielberg’s lavish new adaptation of West Side Story has been banned in multiple Middle Eastern nations due to its inclusion of a transgender character.
Audiences in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates will miss out on the film, which is garnering glowing reviews.
In Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, among others, West Side Story was outright denied a release certificate, Variety reports. In other nations, like Oman and Qatar, Disney refused to comply with censors’ demands to cut a transgender character.
Specifically, censors reportedly asked Disney to cut scenes with Anybodys, who was portrayed as a female “tomboy” in the 1961 film version of West Side Story. In Spielberg and Tony Kushner’s adaptation, Anybodys is openly transgender and portrayed by non-binary actor Iris Menas.
Anybodys has been “disowned from his family and is looking for a home essentially,” Menas said while promoting West Side Story.
“He’s sleeping on the streets and he’s kind of been following the Jets closely,” they said. “And so, we see this kind of lost soul hoping to join this gang of brothers, not only to be accepted into a family, and seen as a unit, but be accepted for who they are as a person and accepted in their own skin.”
Films with LGBTQ references and characters typically fall afoul of censors in more conservative nations, such as China, Russia, and those in the Middle East.
Last month, Marvel’s latest superhero epic Eternals was banned in multiple Middle Eastern nations after Disney — which owns Marvel — refused to cut gay superhero Phastos, portrayed by Bryan Tyree Henry.
In Eternals, Phastos is shown married to another man, Ben (Haaz Sleiman), with the couple raising a child together.
Sleiman and fellow Eternals star Angelina Jolie both slammed the bans, calling them “ignorant.”
Jolie said she was “proud of Marvel for refusing to cut those scenes out.”
“I still don’t understand how we live in a world today where there’s still [people who] would not see the family Phastos has and the beauty of that relationship and that love,” Jolie continued. “How anybody is angry about it, threatened by it, doesn’t approve or appreciate it is ignorant.”
Sleiman told Variety that Disney “stood their ground and said, ‘Nope, we are not going to compromise the integrity of our film.’ It made these Arab countries looks so ignorant and pathetic.”
Last year, Pixar’s animated film Onward was also banned by Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia over a seconds-long acknowledgement of a character’s sexuality.
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