The new Spider-Man film, Across the Spider-Verse, has been pulled from cinemas in more than a dozen Muslim-majority countries without explanation, sparking uproar among fans and critics. The film, which features a scene with a transgender flag and other subtle nods to the LGBTQ+ community, was scheduled to open in the Mideast on June 22, ahead of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, but was abruptly and quietly removed from cinema listings.
The film is a sequel to the 2018 Oscar-winning animated hit Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which netted around $400 million at the global box office and over $1.7 million in the UAE. The film follows the adventures of Miles Morales, a young Afro-Latino boy who becomes Spider-Man after being bitten by a radioactive spider. He teams up with other spider superheroes from different dimensions to stop a threat that could destroy all realities.
The film includes a scene where a transgender flag printed with the words “Protect Trans Kids” is hanging in the room of Gwen Stacy, a spider superhero and character voiced by actress Hailee Steinfeld. The film also subtly integrates additional affirmation for the transgender community, with Spider-Gwen displaying pink and blue hues and her father’s police uniform revealing a badge adorned with the trans flag.
The film debuted in U.S. cinemas at the beginning of June, tripling the domestic opening weekend revenue of its Oscar-winning prequel. However, it faced censorship in several Arab countries where Muslim majorities, guided by Islamic law, or Sharia, often consider homosexuality and transgender identity as sinful and contrary to their religious beliefs and societal norms.
“No explicit bans of the film were announced, but there were indications that it will not reach screens. For example, there is no expectation that ‘Across the Spider-Verse’ will be shown in the United Arab Emirates, said a source close to the film who was not authorized to speak publicly,” reported USA Today.
“On the official Saudi Cinema twitter page, a statement with a poster of the film attached said the organization will not approve any film that contradicts the nation’s media content regulations and whose ‘production companies do not commit to implementing the required amendments,'” reported Fox News.
The UAE, home to the futuristic city of Dubai and the world’s tallest skyscraper, has not officially banned the movie. The federation of seven sheikhdoms once reported an end to its censorship of cinematic releases in an effort to boost its brand as a liberal hub attractive to foreigners, but it has continued to pull some movies from its theatres.
Sony Pictures and Empire Entertainment, the Middle East distributor for the film, did not respond to requests for comment. It is unclear if the film will be released in other regions or online platforms. Many fans have expressed their disappointment and frustration over missing out on one of the most anticipated films of the year. Some have also called for more tolerance and acceptance of diversity in their societies.
– ‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’ was quietly pulled from cinemas across the Mideast. A trans flag may be the reason, Fortune, June 16, 2023
– New ‘Spider-Man’ film pulled from cinema programs in Arab world, possibly over trans flag, USA Today, June 16, 2023
– Muslim-majority countries pull new Spider-Man movie over trans flag: Report, MSN, June 16, 2023
– Blockbuster film ‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’ removed from Middle East cinemas without explanation, Fox News, June 16, 2023