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Joyland, the film that won the Cannes honor banned in Pakistan

The Pakistani government has banned the film Joyland, which was the South Asian nation’s official entry for the Oscars, for containing “highly objectionable material”, and the controversy has sparked a social media debate on the issue of censorship.

The film, which portrays a love story between a transgender man and woman, has won worldwide acclaim on the film festival circuit, including at Cannes earlier this year. It was scheduled to be released in Pakistan on November 18.

The film was approved by the country’s central and provincial censorship boards in August. Films must be approved by both federal and provincial censorship boards before they are allowed to play in theaters.

But a complaint from a religious party leader forced the federal censorship board to reverse its earlier decision and declare the film ineligible for “all of Pakistan”.

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“Written complaints were received that the film contains highly objectionable material that does not conform to the social values ​​and moral standards of our society,” the notice issued Friday said.

Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) Party Senator Mushtaq Ahmad Khan praised the ban in a tweet, saying that as an Islamic republic, Pakistan must adhere to Islamic values ​​and norms.

Pakistani film Joyland premieres at the Toronto Film Festival
(L-R) Saim Sadiq, Rasti Farooq, Alina Khan, Ali Junejo, Sohail Sameer and Sania Saeed at the premiere of Joyland at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) on September 12. [Carlos Osorio/Reuters]

social media hashtags

Controversy surrounding the film has spilled over onto social media, with #ReleaseJoyland and #BanJoyland trending both for and against the critically acclaimed film.

An outpouring of support has flooded social media from people, including artists, for the film.

Author Fatima Bhutto praise tweeted for the film in a thread and said that Joyland is a “beautiful, honest and intelligent film and should put the state to shame that people all over the world can see it except people at home.”

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“Joyland’s censorship makes no sense. Pakistan is full of artists, filmmakers, [and] writers and has a cultural richness and, more importantly, a courage that the world admires. A smart state would celebrate and promote this, not silence and threaten it.”

Under pressure, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s government on Monday formed an eight-member committee to “deliberate complaints” against the film. The committee has been asked to present its report before Tuesday.

The film’s director Saim Sadiq told Al Jazeera he was appalled by the government’s decision.

“This is a very confusing situation. Previously, the board granted a certificate and suddenly [it] it has been returned,” he told Al Jazeera.

“We are taking every democratic, diplomatic and legal means at our disposal to try to resolve this and we hope that common sense will prevail.”

Global recognitions

Joyland is set in the city of Lahore, in the eastern province of Punjab, in Pakistan, and tells the story of a young man who falls in love with a transgender woman. It debuted at the Cannes festival earlier this year, where it received accolades including the Jury Prize and the Queer Palm award.

Since then it has won worldwide acclaim at various film festivals and on Friday, the day it was banned in Pakistan, Sadiq received the Young Film Award at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards in Australia.

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The film was chosen as Pakistan’s official entry for the Academy Awards (Oscars) in September, and the youngest Nobel Prize winner, Malala Yousafzai, has joined the Joyland team as executive producer to promote it for the upcoming season of awards.

Sadiq says that no movie can please everyone and those who don’t like it may choose not to watch it.

“If you have a problem with a movie, you can choose not to watch it. No movie will please all people, and that’s why we don’t need the permission of 220 million people to release a movie,” he said, referring to the population of the South Asian nation.

Meanwhile, party senator JI Khan admitted to Al Jazeera that he has not seen the film, but has been told by “authentic sources” about the film’s content.

“I received information from authentic sources in the media that [the film] has received awards in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) category at Cannes,” the senator told Al Jazeera.

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“This means that the film deals with a subject that has no place in an Islamic republic like Pakistan.”

He also objected to the leading man’s Muslim name ‘Haidar’ due to his religious reverence in the country. This movie celebrates a “love story between men,” he said.

“This is part of a trend of cultural terrorism in Pakistan, challenging our institution of marriage and our cultural norms. This movie is an act of war against them,” she said.

Pakistan has a history of banning films on various topics, often citing religious and nationalistic reasons for banning films.

Writer and director Saim Sadiq at the premiere of Joyland.
The film’s director Saim Sadiq told Al Jazeera he was appalled by the government’s decision. [File: Carlos Osorio/Reuters]


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