‘Joyland’ ban: Pakistan blocks the national release of a film with a sexual liberation story

Islamabad, Pakistan

The Pakistani government has blocked the nationwide release of ‘Joyland’, the first Pakistani film to screen at the Cannes Film Festival, just a week before it was due to hit theaters in the South Asian country.

“Joyland” tells a love story between the youngest son of “a happy patriarchal joint family” and a transgender starlet he meets after secretly joining an erotic dance theater, according to a synopsis on the Cannes Film Festival website.

In August, the country’s Central Board of Film Censorship (CBFC) granted a certificate allowing the film to be released, but on Friday, Pakistan’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting issued a notice saying the film was now “uncertified”.

The official notice said written complaints had been received that the film contains “deeply offensive material” that is inconsistent with the “social values ​​and morals of our society.”

The The ministry’s message said that cinemas under the jurisdiction of the CBFC will not be able to show the film.

“Joyland” won the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize and the unofficial Queer Palm at Cannes in May. It was subsequently submitted to the Oscars as Pakistan’s official entry for the International Feature Film Award. However, it must be in theaters for at least seven days before November 30 to be eligible for the prizes.

Despite not being allowed to be released in Pakistan, “Joyland” could still qualify for this category if it is “shown for at least seven consecutive days in a cinema for a fee outside the US and its territories in a commercial cinema”, according to the official Academy rules.

On Tuesday, a close aide to the Pakistani Prime Minister tweeted that a “high-level committee” was reviewing the complaints against Joyland and reviewing the ban.

“The commission will assess the complaints and their merits to decide on the release in Pakistan,” said adviser Salman Sufi.

The review comes after Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission issued a pronunciation on Sunday condemned the government’s withdrawal of certification for “Joyland” as “rabidly transphobic” and a violation of the film producers’ right to freedom of expression.

“The Pakistani public has the right to decide what they want to see,” the statement said.

Saim Sadiq, the film’s director, argued in an Instagram post that the ministry’s reversal was “absolutely unconstitutional and illegal” and urged them to reconsider.

“Return our citizens’ right to see the film that has made their country’s cinema worldwide proud,” Sadiq wrote.

“Our film was seen and certified by all three censorship boards in August 2022. The 18th Amendment in Pakistan’s constitution gives all provinces the autonomy to make their own decision. Yet the ministry suddenly succumbed to pressure from some extremist factions – who have not seen the film – and made a mockery of our Federal Censorship Board by rendering their decision irrelevant.”

The ban has sparked a public outcry and a social media campaign using the hashtag #releasejoyland.

Rasti Farooq, one of the actresses in the film, posted on Instagram in support of the efforts to release the film.

“I stand behind my film and everything in it, with every fiber of my being,” said Farooq.

Pakistani actor Humayun Saeed, who stars in the fifth season of the Netflix series ‘The Crown’, also weighed in.

“Joyland has made Pakistan proud by becoming the first South Asian film to win the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. It’s a story of our people, told by our people for our people. Hoping to make it accessible to these people #ReleaseJoyland,” he said tweeted.

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