Pakistan reverses course, bans ‘Joyland’ from cinemas

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ISLAMABAD, Nov 15, (AP): Pakistan’s prime minister has ordered a review of the ban on the country’s Oscar entry, the movie “Joyland,” days after the measure was imposed, one of his advisers said. The movie, which features a love story between a married man and a transgender woman, is Pakistan’s entry for next year’s Academy Awards and was a prizewinner at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. But the film has caused controversy in Muslim-majority Pakistan and state censors last week banned its showings at movie theaters, reversing a previous all-clear for release.

According to a tweet late on Monday from Salman Sufi, an adviser to Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, a high-level committee is being set up to assess “Joyland” and review the ban. Transgender people are considered outcasts by many in Pakistan, despite some progress with a law that protects their rights and a landmark Supreme Court ruling designating them as a third gender, “The committee will assess the complaints as well as merits to decide on its release in Pakistan,” Sufitweeted. He could not immediately be contacted for more details. The movie’s director, Saim Sadiq, called the ban “unconstitutional and illegal.” Pakistan has reversed a previous decision to show its Oscar entry, “Joyland,” and has banned it from movie theaters, a government official said Monday. In a statement issued late Sunday night, “Joyland” director Saim Sadiq condemned the government decision, calling it “unconstitutional and illegal.”

The on-screen relationship between two characters has angered some conservatives for weeks in Muslim-majority Pakistan, where transgender people are considered outcasts by many despite some progress on transgender rights. A landmark Supreme Court ruling designates transgender people as a third gender, acknowledging that they identify as neither male nor female. The law is intended to protect the rights of transgender people.

Mobashir Hasan, the Pakistani government’s principle information officer, said the film is “uncertified,” meaning it is barred from screening in cinemas under the jurisdiction of a central censor board. He did not explain why the film had lost its certification, despite being previously approved by the country’s three film censor boards, and said the reversal of the decision was allowed under a 1979 order. It was not immediately clear which cinemas would be affected or how a ban will be enforced. Hasan shared a notice to senior government officials that “Joyland” is uncertified “in the whole of Pakistan” in cinemas under the Central Board of Film Censors’ jurisdiction.

Tahir Hassan, chairman of the CBFC, said one board had “uncertified” the film and that he was not sure about the other two. Salman Sufi, an advisor to Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, said he would ask the information minister to review the film and the ban. He told The Associated Press that a ban on a film like “Joyland,” highlighting issues faced by the transgender people in Pakistan, “strips them of their right” to talk about their issues. Sufisaid marginalized communities deserve a voice, like everyone else, including politicians. “Art is the best form for it, rather than blockages of roads or protesting,” he said, speaking in a personal capacity.

Director Sadiq said in an Instagram post that the film was seen and certified by all three censor boards in August 2022. “The Pakistani constitution gives all provinces the autonomy to make their own decisions. Yet the ministry suddenly caved under pressure from a few extremist factions — who have not seen the film — and made a mockery of our federal censor board by rendering their decision irrelevant,” he said. Earlier this year, the Pakistani government launched a hotline for transgender people in an effort to protect them from discrimination and harassment. The government is attempting to pass an amendment to its transgender rights law, to allow people choose their gender identity for previously issued government documents, educational certificates, and national identity cards. But the proposed amendments have caused controversy, with hardline clerics opposing them. “Joyland” is due to release in Pakistan on Nov. 18, coinciding with Transgender Awareness Week, and preliminary voting for the Academy Awards begins next month.

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