QATAR: The Freedom to Censor

ALEXIS CRUZ WRITES – Usually it’s censors who block a controversial film from domestic distribution. Not so in Quatar, at least in the case of The Danish Girl.

Following online outrage at the transgender tale, the country’s Ministry of Culture tweeted out this month: “We would like to inform you that we have contacted the concerned administration and the screening of the Danish film is now banned from cinemas. We thank you for your unwavering vigilance.”

The film depicts a fictionalized version of the lives of married Danish artists Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener. Elbe was one of the first people to undergo gender reassignment surgery (aka a sex change). Whereas some parts of the world are getting used to seeing prominent transgenders, Qataris don’t seem to be interested. People protested the film’s “depravity” and the small Arabic monarchy listened.

A grateful nation showed its support with a hashtag that in Arabic which means “no to the screening of The Danish Girl.” Tweeters argued the film contradicts their religion and morals. The ban spread, as five other Middle Eastern countries, including United Arab Emirates, Oman, Bahrain, Jordan and Kuwait, piled on.

A 2014 survey by Northwestern University in Qatar revealed that the majority of Qataris support the censure of obscene material. Western expats living there were the only significant group to say they opposed such censorship.

The Danish Girl is by no means the first artistic work to be banned in Qatar. Others have been kept out for various reasons. In the last few years, Indian films Raaz 3 and Grand Mastiwhich were banned for obscene content and the biblical film Noah was banned for its portrayal of a religious figure. About 45 minutes of The Wolf of Wall Street was cut because of sex, swearing and drug use.  

Soon after the news of The Danish Girl ban, an international school based in Doha, Qatar removed a book version of Disney’s far less controversial Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, after a parent complained it had indecent illustrations and phrases including sexual innuendo. No word on what specifically caused offense, but the most graphic scene in the book shows a prince kissing Snow White.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.