The new film The Danish Girl deals with a very sensitive topic. It tells the true story of one of the first people to ever undergo gender reassignment surgery. While the film was certainly prepared for controversy, that has now reached a new level as a movie theater in Qatar has banned the movie outright.
The film was released in Qatar on Friday and played through the weekend, but on Monday the nation’s Ministry of Culture began to receive numerous complaints online. The film was accused of "moral depravity" by some. The Ministry of Culture confirmed via Twitter on Monday that screenings of "the Danish film" had been officially banned from theaters. We hope there are no repercussions against Denmark since it doesn’t appear the ministry is aware where the film was made. Citizens were thanked for their "unwavering vigilance."
To be clear, the vigilance isn’t entirely unwavering. Many in the region have been critical of the decision to ban the film. They point out that the film is based on a true story, so by banning it, the Ministry of Culture isn’t simply preventing people from seeing a movie but actually gaining factual information about an event that took place.
The fact that the movie was even in theaters for the weekend in Qatar is actually something of an accomplishment. The film never made it past censors in Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain or Jordan. The film has been released without any apparent incident in Lebanon, which in general seems to be more willing to show films that are otherwise incredibly controversial in the region. The film is set to be released in Egypt and Israel soon.
This is hardly the first time that a western film has been banned in the Middle East. According to Deadline, both Noah and Exodus: Gods and Kingse have been banned in the past on religious grounds.
Another high profile film with non-traditional characters, Carol, is on the verge of being released in the region so it will be interesting to see what happens with that one. It will very likely see much of the same response, especially following on the heels of The Danish Girl censors are likely to be hypersensitive.
While unsurprising, it’s unfortunate to see this kind of action taken. There are people in the region who want to see this movie and so having them lose that opportunity is frustrating. Exposing people to things that they wouldn’t otherwise experience is part of the reason that art exists in the first place. Transgender men and women have a hard enough time finding acceptance in reality. We hope that most of the people who wanted to see The Danish Girl took their opportunity in the that first weekend.