After reports that “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” has been banned in Saudi Arabia and select Gulf nations, the Saudi Arabian government has clarified the censorship standards requested of Disney.
Nawaf Alsabhan, Saudi Arabia’s general supervisor of cinema classification, told The Guardian that Disney was asked to cut “LGBTQ references” from “Doctor Strange 2″ so the film could premiere in the country. However, Alsabhan noted that the film is not officially banned, despite AMC Cinemas in Saudi Arabia saying it had been “withdrawn” from theaters ahead of its May 6 release.
The requested edits are “barely 12 seconds” of footage, as Alsabhan explained, in which lesbian character America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) refers to her “two moms.” Disney has declined to make any changes to the film, Alsabhan claims.
“It’s just her talking about her moms, because she has two moms,” Alsabhan said. “And being in the Middle East, it’s very tough to pass something like this.”
Disney representatives could not immediately be reached for comment by IndieWire.
To note, homosexuality is officially illegal across the Gulf, and films that feature LGBTQ+ themes or characters are often censored.
Alsabhan added, “We sent it to the distributor, and the distributor sent it to Disney, and Disney has told us they are not willing.”
“Doctor Strange 2” stars Benedict Cumberbatch as the surgeon-turned-wizard who is tasked with teaming up with Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda, aka the Scarlet Witch, following the events of both “WandaVision” and “Spider-Man: No Way Home.”
Alsabhan additionally told Agence France-Presse (via The Guardian) that “Doctor Strange 2” will “never be banned” since there is “no reason to ban the film.”
He continued, “It’s a simple edit…So far they have refused. But we haven’t closed the door. We’re still trying.”
Fellow MCU installment “Eternals” was previously banned across the Gulf nations in November 2021 after showcasing Marvel’s first gay superhero and including a same-sex couple. The Hollywood Reporter said that national censors demanded specific edits be made in order for the film to premiere, but Disney refused. A different, edited version did screen in the United Arab Emirates, however.
Disney’s “West Side Story” was also dropped from release in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, and Kuwait in January — reportedly over the character Anybodys, written as transgender in the film and played by nonbinary actor Iris Menas.