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10 August 2023

Kuwait and Lebanon move to ban Barbie movie over gender and sexuality themes

10 August 2023

Barbie is set to open across the Middle East but moves by Kuwait and Lebanon to ban the film over its themes on gender and sexuality have raised questions over how widely it will be released.

Kuwait announced its ban late on Wednesday, saying the film promotes “ideas and beliefs that are alien to the Kuwaiti society and public order” without elaborating, according to a statement published by the state-run KUNA news agency.

In Lebanon, culture minister Mohammad Mortada said the film was found to “contradict values of faith and morality” and “promote homosexuality and sexual transformation”.

His request to ban the film was forwarded to Lebanon’s General Security agency, which falls under the Interior Ministry and traditionally handles censorship decisions, to make the final verdict.

The move has already sparked an uproar in Lebanon, which has long been an island of relative tolerance for homosexuality.

Across the Middle East, many Muslims, Christians and Jews consider homosexuality to be sinful. In some parts of the Arab world, members of the LGBTQ+ community have been arrested and sentenced to prison. In Iraq, regulators have even banned media from using the word “homosexuality,” instead ordering outlets to refer to it as “sexual deviance”.

The film does not include any overt sexuality, but the all-star cast includes Kate McKinnon, who is gay, and Hari Nef, who is transgender. Ken, played by Ryan Gosling, also sometimes behaves in a feminine manner that would be controversial in much of the Middle East.

Many in the LGBTQ+ community have embraced the film, even as some have criticised it as pushing a heteronormative narrative.

The Warner Bros movie about the dolls has grossed over 1 billion US dollars (£780 million) in less than a month since opening in other markets. The film – led and produced by Margot Robbie, directed and co-written by Greta Gerwig – crossed 400 million dollars (£314 million) in the US and 500 million dollars (£391 million) internationally faster than any other movie at the studio, including the Harry Potter films.

It is set to open in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain on Thursday evening.

Both the UAE and Saudi Arabia have invested billions of dollars in sports, entertainment and tourism in recent years. But like much of the rest of the Middle East, they criminalise homosexuality and view LGBTQ+ advocacy as a threat to their societies that must be quashed.

The film’s release in the region was initially planned for August 31 but was recently brought forward, indicating that any censorship issues had been resolved. Films are often delayed for release in the region to allow time for production companies to censor them or for committees to review them.

Vietnam banned distribution of Barbie last month because it includes a view of a map showing disputed Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Warner Bros did not respond to requests for comments about whether or not the movie was censored for release in the region.

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