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New Spider-Man film abruptly removed from cinema listings in more than a dozen Muslim-majority countries

The new Spider-Man film has been abruptly removed from cinema listings in more than a dozen Muslim-majority countries.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse was removed without explanation, apparently over the inclusion of a blink-and-you-miss-it transgender poster in the background of one frame.

It was listed in cinema programmes as recently as last week in countries such as Kuwait, the UAE, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Lebanon, and Egypt, but was abruptly and quietly pulled.

The film, a sequel to 2018’s Oscar-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, was released earlier this month in the US.


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 the film will be shown in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), said a source close to the movie who was not authorised to speak publicly.

The source cited rigorous censorship of movies for children and younger viewers.

On the official Saudi Cinema twitter page, a statement with a poster of the film attached said the organisation 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”.

The film has sparked debate online about whether the character Gwen Stacy is trans, and a scene in a trailer shows a sign in the background that reads “protect trans kids”.

Pic: Sony Pictures Animation/AP

No reasons were given for the film listings being pulled, but the brief transgender reference might have caused offense in 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.

Empire Entertainment, the Middle East distributor for the computer-animated Sony Pictures film, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Initially, the film was scheduled to open in the Middle East on 22 June, ahead of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.

The UAE has not officially banned the movie but while 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, it has continued to pull some movies from its theatres.

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Emaar Entertainment, a state-owned entity and parent company of major UAE cinema company Reel Cinemas, confirmed to The Associated Press that it will not be screening the film.

The company attributed the decision to Empire Entertainment, the exclusive theatrical distributor for Sony Pictures movies in the Middle East.

Empire Entertainment, the UAE Ministry of Youth and Culture and the Saudi Ministry of Communications and Information Technology could not be reached for comment.

In a similar incident last year, Disney’s Lightyear was banned in 13 Muslim-majority nations for featuring a scene with a lesbian kiss.

The moment had been earlier cut from the film but was restored after Pixar employees protested Disney’s response to Florida legislation that opponents dubbed as the Don’t Say Gay bill.


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