One of the most anticipated films of the holiday season is West Side Story. The Disney-backed, Spielberg-directed powerhouse is already getting massive Oscar buzz. However, in the Arab world, the movie has caused intense backlash and has since been banned in numerous countries.
The nations of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, and Kuwait have all banned the new adaptation of West Side Story from screening due to its portrayal of a transgender character. The character in question is Anybodys. In the original film, Anybodys was a tomboy who often hung around the Jets. In more recent years, as more has become known about sexual orientation and gender, Anybodys has become somewhat of a queer icon for portraying a non-conforming character. The new film is portraying Anybodys as a trans character and is being played by nonbinary actress, Iris Menas.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait wouldn’t even grant permission for the film to premiere in their countries. The other nations demanded that Disney make significant cuts around LGBTQ themes in order to be granted permission to screen. Disney refused to make the edits.
Just a few months ago, Disney was in the same position with their Marvel film Eternals, which featured LGBTQ characters. It too was banned in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait for the inclusion of a gay superhero.
As unfortunate as it is to see these films get banned, in reality, it’s also a great indication of Disney’s commitment to including LGBTQ characters. Remember, only a few years ago, Disney was petrified of including LGBTQ characters in any TV show or movie. The fact that the media empire has not only started bringing inclusion into its projects – but is also refusing to remove it when challenged – is a great sign that Disney has genuinely begun a transformation towards actual equality in media.
‘West Side Story’ premieres in theaters on December 10th