Barbie Release Postponed in Middle East as Potential Ban Looms in Saudi Arabia and More Territories

“Barbie” is running into censorship headaches in the Middle East.

Leading regional exhibitor Vox Cinemas – which is Warner Bros.’ local distribution partner – has pushed back the release of the hit Greta Gerwig film to Aug. 31 after initially setting a July 19 rollout out date for “Barbie” in the Middle East that would have allowed local audiences to see the film two days before its U.S. release.

The reason for the delay, according to a knowledgeable source, is that Warner Bros. has been trying to work out edits requested by censors related to alleged LGBTQ-related narration and dialogue in “Barbie.”

These requested cuts do not seem likely to be approved by the studio. Therefore it’s likely, though not certain, that “Barbie” will not be released in at least some Middle East territories, including in Saudi Arabia, which is the region’s top market, as well as possibly other territories including the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Egypt.

On Sunday evening, Saudi film and entertainment platform Movsto posted a tweet saying that “Barbie” will not be shown in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain.

Warner Bros. declined to comment on Tuesday. Vox did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Though “Barbie” stars several openly LGBTQ actors such as Kate McKinnon, Hari Nef, Alexandra Shipp and Scott Evans, there does not seem to be much content in the film that is blatantly queer. As Margot Robbie put it in an interview with British LGBTQ magazine Attitude, the dolls don’t “actually have sexual orientations” in the movie.

Still, it’s not surprising that “Barbie,” a bold film centred around the iconic Western doll that is a symbol of American girlhood, is ruffling feathers in the Arab world. Several previous “Barbie” movies made for home video were banned in Saudi Arabia a decade ago due to racy clothing and the portrayal of women in non-traditional gender roles. And even though Saudi society is rapidly opening up, the film may just simply be too camp while also posing too great a challenge to traditional male authority for the Middle East.

Movies in the Middle East concerning or containing sex, homosexuality and religious issues are routinely cut to comply with censorship rules. If a studio is unwilling to make cuts suggested by censors the films are banned. This happened most recently with “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” which in June was not approved for release in Saudi and the UAE most likely due to a scene featuring a poster in the background of the frame that depicts the transgender flag and reads “Protect Trans Lives.”

“Barbie” has emerged as a bonafide blockbuster across the world. The film has already crossed the $700 million mark at the worldwide box office and will likely cross $1 billion during its run.

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