Just days from its release, Steven Spielberg’s incredible West Side Story has been banned from theaters in several countries in the Gulf region. According to reports, Disney refused to remove the transgender character “Anybodys”. Regional censors objected and have now blocked the film’s release on December 9.
As of this writing, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Omar, Kuwait, and Bahrain will not be showing the film.
Should We Care if Spielberg’s “West Side Story” is Banned in Other Countries?
Yes, we should because it can affect how our movies are made here. Regardless of your stance on transgender characters, we can all agree that it is preferable that Spielberg’s West Side Story was banned instead of censored. Censorship is never a positive and kudos to Disney for taking a stand.
It’s worth noting that this would be the second time Disney in as many months has taken a hit in the same region over pretty much the same issue. In November, Eternals was also banned because one of its characters was openly gay. Disney refused to edit the film to accommodate Gulf states and that was that.
It’s also worth noting that while Spielberg’s West Side Story will presumably not be banned in China over a transgender character, Disney has bent over backward to accommodate Chinese censors before. The most notable case is the casting of Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One. In the comics, The Ancient One is a wizened Tibetan who would not at all fly with the Chinese government. There’s more and some of it is pretty ugly.
This is why it matters what studios choose to do. The Gulf region is clearly not a large enough market to influence Disney’s decisions. But China is. Right now, Disney is altering its films in ways we may not really notice or care about. That may not be the case later.