DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The United Arab Emirates on Monday banned Pixar’s upcoming animated feature “Lightyear” from showing in theaters after it included a kiss between two lesbian characters.
The UAE’s move comes as Malaysia also reportedly bans the film, raising the possibility that other Muslim-majority countries could follow suit on one of Disney’s biggest animated films of the year. as the film industry emerges from the depths of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Emirates, home to Abu Dhabi and Dubai, announced through their media regulatory office in the country’s Ministry of Youth and Culture that the film will not be released in the country this Thursday.
The film “is not permitted to be publicly screened in any cinemas in the UAE, due to its violation of the country’s media content standards,” the office said in a tweet. “The office confirms that all films screened in theaters across the country are tracked and evaluated prior to the public screening date, to ensure the safety of the content released according to the classification of appropriate age.”
The office did not provide details about the tweet and did not immediately respond to questions from The Associated Press. The tweet included an image of the film’s poster, featuring its lead character Buzz Lightyear’s profile picture with a “no” symbol on it in red.
Cinemas in the United Arab Emirates, a federation of seven emirates on the Arabian Peninsula, had already announced the film’s schedules. But over the weekend, a social media campaign with the Arabic hashtag “Ban Showing Lightyear in the Emirates”, caught the attention of Emirati conservatives. They described showing a lesbian couple on screen as being against their culture and religion.
The film, with actor Chris Evans voicing the inspiration for the Buzz Lightyear action figure from the “Toy Story” movies, includes a female character voiced by actress Uzo Aduba kissing his female partner.
The UAE, like many other countries in the wider Middle East, is a Muslim-ruled nation that criminalizes same-sex relationships. The US State Department warns that Islamic law, or Sharia, in the United Arab Emirates can include the death penalty for same-sex relations, while Dubai can impose a 10-year prison sentence and Abu Dhabi allows up to 14 year.
However, such lawsuits are rarely reported, and LGBTQ people live in the skyscraper-studded city-state of Dubai, home to long-haul carrier Emirates.
The $200 million “Lightyear” is expected to be a major draw for Disney, with analysts estimating it could gross more than $100 million in its first weekend.
Studios have allowed censors to cut films from global distribution for content in the past, including in the Middle East market. Recently, Disney faced protests from activists and its own staff over what they described as CEO Bob Chapek’s slow response to publicly criticizing Florida legislation that opponents have dubbed the draft. “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
In late March, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed the bill, which bans teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade.
The moment had been cut earlier from the film but was restored after Pixar employees protested Disney’s response to the Florida bill.
The film may also be banned in Malaysia. The Star, the country’s main English-language newspaper, quoted an unnamed non-governmental source as saying Lightyear will not be shown in Malaysian cinemas. No reason was given. A newspaper in the Persian Gulf island kingdom of Bahrain also speculated that the film would not be shown there.
Officials from Malaysia’s Film Censorship Board and the Ministry of Interior, as well as The Walt Disney Co., could not immediately be reached for comment.