Barbie Facing Possible Ban In the Middle East Amid Box Office Success
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Barbie Facing Possible Ban In the Middle East Amid Box Office Success

Jul 27, 2023

The Barbie movie is sweeping the globe, but the Middle East remains out of the loop due to censorship, and a permanent ban might happen.

The highly successful Barbie film dominating the box office seems to have finally hit a snag as it faces possible bans in the Middle East due to the regional censorship required before the film can be shown. The looming threat of a ban comes after a delayed premiere by Warner Bros. Middle Eastern distribution partners.

Barbie is a 2023 fantasy comedy based on the popular doll of the same name. The toy line from which the movie draws inspiration has been a mainstay of children’s toys since its inception in 1959. While the IP has been adapted in almost every form, including 42 animated movies, 2023’s Barbie was a far more ambitious live-action project that pushed Barbie and her perpetual beau Ken as they deal with the existential issues that arise from their discovery of the real world and its drastic departure from their idyllic home of Barbieland. The movie featured an ensemble cast, with names as big as Simu Liu joining Barbie leads Robbie and Ryan Gosling.

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The film has been the talk of the town since Warner Bros. revealed the first look at Robbie as Barbie. It has already smashed box office predictions with stellar performances across unforeseen demographics. However, one market has remained unaffected by the film’s glamour. Vox Cinemas, Warner Bros.' Middle Eastern distribution partner, has delayed its release in the Middle East due to concerns about LGBTQ+ content. More recently, Variety reports seem to suggest that the film might be banned outright in the markets of Saudi Arabia, with United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Egypt possibly following suit.

This isn't Barbie's first time coming across such a roadblock, as the film was barred from Vietnam and the Philippines before release for reinforcing Chinese territorial markers and was also facing another potential ban in more Asian countries due to a controversial scene. The Middle Eastern release delay, which indefinitely shifted a premiere date that would have seen Middle Eastern patrons get to see Barbie two days before Western audiences, was expected to allow for changes to be made to create a more palatable ‘localized’ version of the film for the stricter censors. However, entertainment news outlets in the region and a few Western contemporaries seem sure that Warner Bros will not be implementing any significant changes to the film.

Robbie, who admitted to cracking up frequently on the Barbie set while filming her leading role, has stated that the characters in the film have no sexual orientation, bringing the censor claims of LGBTQ+ messages into question. "I'm like, 'Okay, she's a doll. She's a plastic doll. She doesn't have organs. If she doesn't have organs, she doesn't have reproductive organs. If she doesn't have reproductive organs, would she even feel sexual desire?' No, I don't think she could," Robbie concluded during an interview with Vogue. "She is sexualized. But she should never be sexy. People can project sex onto her... Yes, she can wear a short skirt, but because it's fun and pink. Not because she wanted you to see her butt."

Despite the situation in the Middle East, Barbie remains a stellar outing for Warner Bros. due in no small part to the Barbenheimer phenomena that resulted in fans marrying the two seemingly opposing films into one cinematic experience, with Oppenheimer director Christopher Nolan weighing in on the Barbie and Oppenheimer release and box office earnings being boosted.

Barbie is currently showing in theaters.

MORE: Barbie's Ending, Explained

Source: Variety, Vogue

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