‘West Side Story’ banned in Saudi Arabia over transgender character

Steven Speilberg’s new film version of West Side Story is getting heaps of rave reviews, but one place people won’t be seeing the film is in the Middle East.

Several countries have banned the film citing the inclusion of a transgender character as the reason for the censorship. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain have all refused to screen the musical.

The film features the character Anybodys, played by non-binary actor Iris Menas. In the original stage production and the 1961 film the character is presented as a tomboy, but in the new version the character is shown as being transgender.

Saudi Arabia and Kuwait banned the film immediately, while the other countries asked Disney to edit the character out of the film. When the studio refused they followed suit and banned the whole film too.

With homosexuality being illegal in all the gulf countries, any depiction of gender or sexuality beyond traditional depictions of binary genders and heterosexuality, often fall foul of the censors.

Director Stephen Spielberg has worked with Angels in America playwright Tony Kushner to bring some significant changes to the story. Their adaptation includes re-ordering the songs slightly, omitting subtitles when characters speak in Spanish, and only casting Latinx performers as Puerto Rican characters.

In a promotional video released by Disney, Iris Menas spoke about their character.

West Side Story tells the classic tale of fierce rivalries and young love in 1957 New York City.

Spielberg’s reimagining of the beloved musical stars Ansel Elgort as Tony, Rachel Zegler as María, Ariana DeBose as Anita, David Alvarez  as Bernardo, Mike Faist as Riff, Josh Andrés Rivera as Chino, Ana Isabelle as Rosalía, while Corey Stoll plays Lieutenant Schrank) and Brian d’Arcy James as Officer Krupke.

The musical which features music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim made it debut on Broadway in 1957. The first film version was released in 19612 staring Natalie Wood,  Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn and George Chakiris, alongside Rita Moreno as Anita.

Moreno appears in the new version playing the shopkeeper character, who is now named Valentina.

West Side Story arrives in Australian cinemas on 26th December 2021.

OIP Staff

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