Islamabad, Pakistan – The Pakistani government has lifted the ban on the film Joyland, the country’s official Oscar entry, paving the way for its nationwide release on November 18.
The central censor board’s change of heart comes days after the Information Ministry banned Joyland for “highly objectionable” content.
Located in the eastern city of Lahore, Joyland addresses the problems of gender and sexuality – taboo subjects in Pakistan – through the story of a married man who falls in love with a transgender dancer, played by transgender actress Alina Khan.
In another twist on Thursday, Pakistan’s eastern province of Punjab reversed its October decision to release the film. The ban notice said the film’s permission had been revoked “following persistent complaints received from different quarters”.
Punjab’s change of heart meant that the film would not be screened in the province, the country’s most populous, but other provinces could still screen.
Provincial Culture Minister Malik Taimoor Masood told Al Jazeera that right-wing groups were concerned about the film.
Masood said that given the polarization of society and the sensitivity involved, the government would review the film to ensure “no feelings are hurt”.
“I have called a meeting on Friday to review the situation and will announce a decision regarding release in the province at the earliest,” he said.
Rented in Cannes, prohibited here
Director Saim Sadiq’s debut feature film received worldwide acclaim and was presented at international film festivals this year. He has has won numerous awardsincluding the Jury Prize as well as the Queer Palm Award at the Cannes Film Festival, where it had its world premiere.
It received approval from the provincial and federal censor board for broadcast in Pakistan in August, but the federal board withdrew its approval on November 11 after a lawmaker from a religious party complained about it, triggering a huge reaction on social networks.
A film must obtain federal and provincial approval to be shown in theaters. Between August and November, Joyland was only seen by members of the censorship boards.
Although there were no street protests and campaigns for and against Joyland were taking place on social media, the government was under pressure from conservative elements to ban the film, which it did . Subsequent public pressure online led the government to hastily form a review committee on November 14, and ultimately reverse its ban decision.
“The film #Joyland has been cleared for release by the review committee of the censor board formed under the leadership of Prime Minister @CMShehbaz,” Salman Sufi, an aide to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, announced in a tweet on Wednesday evening.
– Salman Sufi (Get a new Covid booster today) (@SalmanSufi7) November 16, 2022
Mushtaq Ahmad Khan, the Jamaat-e-Islami party MP who opposed the film, expressed his displeasure with the government’s decision to lift the ban.
“Under pressure from the foreign and secular lobby, the government collapsed. It is a misfortune for Pakistan that a film in the LGBTQ category, nominated for an Oscar, gets clearance for release,” Khan tweeted.
حکومت بیرونی،سیکولرلابی کےدباؤکےآگےڈھیر،پاکستان کی بدقسمتی,آسکر کےلیےنامزد#LGBTQ کیٹ یگری والی فلم کونمائش کی اجازت،@GovtofPakistanکےلیےمغربی سفارتکاروائسرائہیں،ایسافیصلہ متوقع تھا،کیا تعلیم،ان ٹراپرنیورشپ،یوتھ ا مپاؤرمنٹ،صحت،غربت،کرپشن فلمی دنیاکےلئےکوئی مو ضوعات نہیں؟ #BanJoyland pic.twitter.com/3tITlgEbTy
– Senator Mushtaq Ahmad Khan (@SenatorMushtaq) November 16, 2022
“Foreign diplomats are like viceroys of the Pakistani government. This decision was expected. Were there no topics related to education, entrepreneurship, youth empowerment, health, poverty or corruption for the film industry? ” He continued.
Norms of Pakistani society
Sufi told Al Jazeera that Joyland was cleared by a 14-member review committee, formed by a government under pressure, with “minor changes in the film that were passed on to the filmmakers.”
A member of the review committee told Al Jazeera that the film had raised concerns due to its language as well as its depiction of transgender people in society.
“The film contained a lot of foul language. Therefore, some cuts and edits were suggested to the filmmakers. The review board gave the film an adult rating,” said the member, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The committee member added that considering Pakistani culture and societal norms, the film could be improved.
“Critics, just like filmmakers, have equal rights to present their views,” said Sufi, who heads the prime minister’s strategic reforms unit.
“The film did not have content contrary to the norms of Pakistani society. Transgenders are human beings and their lives should have equal value,” he added.
The transgender community faces deep-rooted societal ostracization in Pakistan and is subject to increasing violence and discrimination. According to Amnesty International, at least 18 transgender people were killed in the country between October 2021 and September 2022.