Will Barbie film get banned across all MENA countries?

image courtesy of Salma Ahmed


Barbie film ban in middle eastern countries rehashes the debate on censorship. And what now will Maghreb countries do?

Censorship of mainstream Hollywood films is nothing new for the middle east, as theatrical releases often have to be edited to comply with middle eastern religious and cultural boundaries.

In October 2021, the Marvel film Eternals was banned in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and even in Egypt and Nigeria after Disney refused to cut a gay kiss. In other middle eastern countries including Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Jordan, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates, the film had to be edited to exclude all scenes of intimacy, both homosexual and heterosexual, which is generally common practice for these markets.

Read: Iranian film festival banned as woman uncovers hair on poster

Such is the case for the new Barbie movie released in July, which has soared at the box office, already grossing over $1 billion worldwide so far, a milestone which was never reached before by a female director.

So far the film has already been banned in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, and Lebanon, which has reignited the debate about media censorship applied to certain countries by their governments in order to withhold certain material to reach their youth and audiences.

With these countries leading the way with the bans of the Barbie film, it is expected that other Middle Eastern countries including Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Algeria, Egypt and others will soon follow suit.

They could either also impose a ban on the screening of the film in its entirety, or, at the very least, demand that it is not shown in its original format, but cut according to what they considered to be in line with their values.

The question is often asked what they are so afraid of when banning anything that contradicts their fundamental traditional beliefs and cultural norms. Are they afraid that their youth will be “infected” by Western ideology, and therefore stray too far from what they deem acceptable? Or are they worried about the normalisation of things that they have yet to discuss openly or de-criminalize in their governments and culture? Would they like to keep these potential questions out of sight and out of mind, so as to not trigger any upheaval or unrest for moral questioning or an ethical debate with which these issues are concerned?

Even if it is not screened in cinemas, however, it is virtually impossible to ban any form of media completely. Most films and other kinds of media can be easily found online with just a few searches and can be accessed by practically anyone with an internet connection. Arab news publications have expressed their criticism of the film being unsuitable for children, even going as far as to claim it is inciting propaganda.

The influx of concern and debate raging on in the Arab world insinuates that the film is still in jeopardy to get banned in even more countries in the coming days.





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