Pakistan bans Cannes-winning ‘Joyland,’ its entry for the 2023 Oscars



“Joyland,” a Pakistani film that tells the story of a young married man who falls in love with a transgender woman, won a prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and is set to represent the South Asian country in next year’s Academy Awards.

But a week before the film was due to debut in Pakistani cinemas, the country’s government withdrew the film’s censorship certification.

Mushtaq Ahmad Khan, a senator from the nonruling Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami party, praised the ban, arguing that the film was against Islamic values. He shared a Friday statement from the country’s Information and Broadcasting Ministry, which said the decision came after written complaints alleged that the film “contains highly objectionable material” and went against “decency and morality.”

The ban immediately prompted sharp criticism from the film’s director and rights activists in the country, with the hashtag #ReleaseJoyland used tens of thousands of times on social media as of Tuesday.

Following the outrage, Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif ordered a “high level” review into the ban, an aide tweeted Monday night. “The committee will assess the complaints as well as merits to decide on its release in Pakistan,” Salman Sufi said.

“Joyland” director Saim Sadiq had described the ban as a “grave injustice,” as well as “absolutely unconstitutional and illegal.” In a Sunday statement, he accused the government of giving in to “pressure from a few extremist factions,” noting that the film had already received certification from the country’s censorship boards.

“I urge the Pakistan Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to please review this decision and return the right of our citizens to be able to watch the film that has made their country’s cinema proud [the] world over,” he said.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan also condemned the ban, saying that the justification offered by the government was “not only rabidly transphobic, but also violates the film producers’ right to freedom of expression.”

In 2018, Pakistan’s Parliament adopted a law enshrining basic rights for its transgender community, known as khwaja sira or the third gender, including the recognition of their self-identification and prohibiting any discrimination against them.

In practice, however, prejudice and even violence against transgender people in Pakistan have continued, with Human Rights Watch accusing authorities of “failing to provide adequate protection or hold perpetrators to account.” The country’s penal code also criminalizes same-sex relationships.

Pakistan has previously censored a number of films, including those accused of portraying the country or Muslims negatively — although in some cases the decision was later overturned.

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