Steven Speilberg’s film adaptation of the classic musical West Side Story has been banned in six Middle Eastern countries after Disney reportedly said no to transphobic censorship requests.
Sources from the region told The Hollywood Reporter that censors in the socially conservative countries objected to the presence of the transgender character, Anybodys, played by nonbinary actor Iris Menas. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates all banned the release of the movie.
Spielberg’s film is the most recent adaptation of the famed 1957 Broadway musical of the same name, and tells the story of two lovers from rival gangs and different ethnic backgrounds. The musical was inspired by Romeo and Juliet, the timeless story of impossible love by William Shakespeare. In the original Broadway production and 1961 film adaptation, the minor character of Anybodys was a female tomboy constantly rejected from joining the Jets gang because she was a girl. Regional sources told The Hollywood Reporter censors in the six countries objected to the portrayal of Anybody as transgender in Spielberg’s most recent film adaptation.
This is the second time in as many months that a major motion picture was denied release in a Middle Eastern country after producers refused to censor portions of the film showing LGBTQ+ characters and storylines. Last month, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar banned the Disney-owned Marvel Studios film Eternals from release in their countries after Disney refused to make edits believed related to the depiction of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's first gay couple, superhero Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry) and his husband Ben (Haaz Sleiman). The movie was due to be released throughout the Gulf region on November 11.
Oscar-winning director Chloé Zhao had earlier said she had her “fingers crossed” about the possibility of local censorship of the film’s gay scenes for foreign audiences. At the time, it appeared there was little desire by Marvel or the filmmaker to submit to such homophobic requests.
“I don’t know all the details but I do believe discussions were had and there’s a big desire from Marvel and myself — we talked about this — to not change the cut of the movie,” Zhao said.
Spielberg’s version of the modern classic is from a screenplay by Tony Kushner (Angels in America). Kushner has worked with Spielberg previously on Munich (2005) and Lincoln (2013). West Side Story stars Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler in the lead roles of Tony and Maria, with Out 100 cover star Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, and Mike Faist in supporting roles. Rita Moreno, who appeared in the original 1961 film adaptation, also appears in the most recent adaption.
West Side Story opens this Friday, December 10, and you can watch a trailer for the movie below.