The Walt Disney Company’s latest animated Pixar movie, Lightyear, has been prohibited from screening in 14 Middle Eastern and Asian countries, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the decision not to publicly exhibit the movie, a prequel of sorts to the 1995’s Toy Story, is due to a same-sex kiss between a character named Hawthorne (voiced by Uzo Aduba), a female space ranger, and her partner.
The kiss was originally cut from the film but reinstated after a group of LGBTQ Pixar employees issued a memo accusing Disney of having regularly censored same-sex affection in films throughout the years.
The memo was released in response to controversy over Disney CEO Bob Chapek’s comments defending the decision not to have the company speak out against Florida’s “Parental Rights in Education” bill — or, “Don’t Say Gay” bill — which bars discussions of LGBTQ content in primary grades and restricts what LGBTQ-related information can be discussed in older grades. Critics of the bill say it singles out LGBTQ youth and children with same-sex parents for discrimination and censors their free speech rights when it comes to expressing their identity.
Following outcry from LGBTQ groups angered by Disney’s silence over the bill — as well as demonstrations and walkouts led by Disney employees and actors on Disney shows — Lightyear‘s same-sex kiss was restored.
The inclusion of same-sex kiss was not welcomed in the United Arab Emirates, where homosexuality is criminalized. On June 13, the UAE’s Media Regulatory Office announced that the movie — originally scheduled for release on June 16 — was not licensed for public screening due to its “violation of the country’s media content standards,” according to Reuters.
Representatives from other countries, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Lebanon, have not given reasons for why the film was not greenlit for release.
One of the film’s producers, Galyn Susman, told Reuters that authorities in China had asked for cuts to the movie, which Disney declined to make.
While Disney had not received a response from Chinese authorities regarding the edits, Susman said she assumed the movie would not be available for release in China, given its government’s past rejection of films depicting homosexuality and same-sex affection.
“We’re not going to cut out anything, especially something as important as the loving and inspirational relationship that shows Buzz what he’s missing by the choices that he’s making,” Susman told Reuters. “So that’s not getting cut.”
Lightyear is the latest in a growing list of Disney films that have run afoul of censors in conservative Middle Eastern and Asian countries.
In April, Marvel’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness was banned in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, reportedly due to its portrayal of character American Chavez as gay.
In January, West Side Story was barred from theaters in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and Kuwait due to the inclusion of a transgender character.
In November, the film Eternals was banned in many Middle Eastern countries due to the inclusion of a same-sex couple in the film and a gay superhero character. However, an edited version of the film did screen in the United Arab Emirates.
Chris Evans, who voices the movie’s chief protagonist, Buzz Lightyear, said objections to the film over LGBTQ inclusion were “frustrating.”
“It’s great that we are a part of something that’s making steps forward in the social inclusion capacity,” he said. “But it’s frustrating that there are still places that aren’t where they should be.”
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