News & Opinion | TV & Film | Entertainment
(Source: Dale Robinette/ Warner Bros./ Courtesy Everett Collection)
Within a month, “Barbie” has cemented itself as a cultural and record breaking phenom having already surpassed the coveted $1 billion mark making the film the second highest grossing release in the history of Warner Bros. and the first film directed by a woman to do so.
This past Wednesday, a day before the film’s planned release, Lebanese Culture Minister Mohammad Mortada publicly requested Lebanon’s General Security agency to prevent the screening of Barbie in cinemas. In his statement, Minister Mortada claims the film “promotes homosexuality and transsexuality…supports rejecting a father’s guardianship, undermines and ridicules the role of the mother, and questions the necessity of marriage and having a family.”
The film stars Margot Robbie as the titular character and Ryan Gosling as the arguably flamboyant “Ken”. Additionally, the movie features openly LGBTQ+ talent such as Hari Nef, Kate McKinnon, Alexandra Shipp, and Scott Evans.
Although the film does not contain any explicit LGBTQ+ references, it does challenge, and as a result expands, the constructs of womanhood and masculinity by breaking down traditional, stereotypical gender roles that are often foisted upon society.
(Source: Warner Bros. Pictures)
The Film Censorship Committee in Lebanon, composed of members from General Security and the Ministry of Economy, stated they have no reason to request the banning of “Barbie”.
Last month, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the current leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah (“The Party of God”), a powerful Iran-backed political and military force that supports Mortada, called for the execution of those involved in “same-sex relations” using Islamic teachings to validate his rhetoric.
Nasrallah also blames certain educational institutions and nongovernmental organizations for “promoting” same-sex relations to children and has called on the country’s Ministry of Education to intervene.
Surprisingly, Lebanon is one of the Middle East’s relatively liberal countries with a present, visible, and vocal LGBTQ+ community. In 2017, Lebanon shared the notable recognition of being the first Arab country to hold a gay pride week.
However, LGBTQ+ people still face legal, social, and economic discrimination with restrictions such as crackdowns on queer bars, nightclubs, and community centers.
Recently, Lebanon’s political elite along with Nasrallah have enacted a homophobic campaign against the LGBTQ+ community, shutting down any events aimed at promoting “sexual perversion”.
Activists say that this “clampdown” on marginalized groups is a tactic to distract the public from Lebanon's severe economic and financial crisis, which has brought three-quarters of the population into poverty.
(Source: Middle East Institute)
“Nevertheless, I don’t think that the Lebanese people, including the more traditional ones, have a real problem with “Barbie”, they are not focused on moral issues, instead they are very worried about economic collapse, the justice system, and the Lebanese state” says Ayman Mhanna, executive director of the Samir Kassir Foundation, which aims to “promote democratic culture” in Lebanon and the entirety of the Middle East.
Kuwait, notably known to be the Gulf region’s strictest market, followed behind Lebanon and immediately banned the film. According to a spokesman for the Kuwaiti Ministry of Information, the film “promulgates ideas and beliefs that are alien to Kuwaiti society and public order.”
Additionally, the horror film “Talk to Me” was also banned in Kuwait due to the gender identity of one of the film’s stars, Zoe Terakes, who identifies as nonbinary and transmasculine. However, the film never references Terakes' identity in the film, making the ban the first of its kind to prevent a film screening because of the gender identity of a cast member.
(Source: Warner Bros. Pictures)
In what seems to be a tragic domino effect, the Algerian Ministry of Culture and Arts joins Lebanon and Kuwait in moving to ban “Barbie”, after the very same film had been screening in certain cinemas in the country for nearly three weeks after its release.
According to the Ministry, the film “promotes homosexuality and other Western deviances” [and] “does not conform to Algerian religious and cultural beliefs”.
Some people in Algeria publicly decried this cancellation on social media, protesting their complaints along with the hashtag, “#IAmBarbie”, while others denounced the decision as “censorship” and “bigotry”.
(Source: GQ Italy)
“Barbie” was originally scheduled to screen in the Middle East on July 19, however the release date was delayed to August 31 before getting pushed ahead to August 10 after local censors allegedly suggested edits regarding LGBTQ-related narration and dialogue in the film.
Movies that imply or include sex, homosexuality, and religious issues are usually cut in the Middle East in accordance with censorship rules. If censor edits are not made by the respective studio or they promote behavior the state deems as unacceptable, then the films are totally banned.
Currently, the film is being reviewed by censors in Lebanon and is not programmed in cinemas.