The release of Sony Pictures’ animated superhero film, ‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’, has faced obstacles in the Middle East as it explores transgender themes. Several countries in the region, including the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, have decided to pull the film from their release schedules, tarnishing what was expected to be a significant cinematic event. The censorship boards in these nations did not grant approval for the film, leading to its sudden cancellation. Initially planned for a June 22 release to coincide with the Eid Al Adha holiday, the film failed to meet the strict guidelines surrounding gender and sexual identity representation prevalent in the region.
While the specific reasons for the ban were not officially stated, ‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’ includes scenes that push for transgender rights and visibility. Two key scenes have gained attention. One features Gwen Stacy, voiced by Hailee Steinfeld, who has a transgender flag in her bedroom with the message “Protect Trans Kids,” sparking speculation about her character’s transgender identity. Another scene involves Gwen’s father, George Stacy, whose police uniform prominently displays a patch of the trans pride flag, signaling support for transgender rights from a figure of authority.
These explicit displays of support for the transgender community have sparked controversy in many predominantly Muslim nations in the Middle East. Cultural and religious traditions in these countries often consider non-binary or non-traditional gender identities as taboo topics of discussion or depiction.
The ban on ‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’ is a part of a broader trend of censoring Western animations in the Middle East. In the previous year, Disney Pixar’s ‘Lightyear’, a spin-off from the beloved Toy Story franchise, was banned due to a scene featuring a lesbian kiss. Disney’s Baymax series was also removed from the regional Disney+ streaming service for including a transgender character who menstruates.
While fans in the Middle East may be disappointed by the ban, these actions highlight the enduring cultural differences and diverse attitudes towards LGBTQ+ issues on a global scale.