Pixar’s Lightyear is the latest film to not make it past Middle Eastern censors, joining a recent string of prominent Disney films that have been banned in countries that include Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. In the case of Lightyear, the decision to boycott Lightyear apparently comes down to the inclusion of a same-gender kiss in the Toy Story spinoff.
The situation illustrates Disney’s increasingly complex position, caught between liberal and conservative sides of a culture war that is both national and international in scope. The Lightyear scene, featuring the female character Hawthorne and her partner, was cut from the film originally, but that decision caused an online uproar after accusations that Disney was attempting to whitewash depictions of gay affection from its screenplays. Following Disney’s Florida debacle and very public feud with governor Ron DeSantis following the passage of the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, activists have unsurprisingly been keeping a very close eye on the company. But the flip side of reinstating that same-sex kiss scene is now that the film is banned in the likes of Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The latter said the film was “not licensed for public screening due to its violation of the country’s media content standards,” according to The Hollywood Reporter.
And this is just the latest recent instance of one of Disney’s films being held up by Middle Eastern censors due to (often minor and tangential) inclusion of LGBTQ references or characters. Back in April, Sam Raimi’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness saw its theatrical release canceled due to the presence of character America Chavez, who is gay in the comics. This feels especially notable, given that the character’s sexuality has literally no impact on the film’s plot in any way, suggesting that even acknowledgement of the existence of gay character won’t be tolerated in these markets. Similarly, Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story was also banned due to the existence of transgender character Anybodys, played by nonbinary actor Iris Menas.
This is the ugly flipside to increased LGBTQ, transgender and nonbinary representation in American cinema; the fact that these films must then fight an uphill battle not only with a portion of the U.S. population but in entire foreign markets where a small part of their content results in them being prohibited. We can only hope that the threat of losing these markets does not spur a company like Disney to bow to the whims of a regressive regime.