West Side Story banned in Saudi Arabia and parts of Middle East over trans character

West Side Story adaptation banned in several Gulf countries due to trans character

A Disney remake of West Side Story has been banned in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations over the inclusion of a trans character.

The Hollywood Reporter confirmed that Steven Spielberg’s musical adaptation will not screen in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman or Kuwait.

In Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, the strictest countries in terms of movie censorship, West Side Story was banned outright. However, in the other Middle Eastern countries, censors requests cuts that Disney refused to make. Despite originally having a release date in these countries, the film has now been banned. 

A source for the Hollywood Reporter said that the decision to ban West Side Story was due to trans character Anybodys, played by non-binary actor Iris Menas. 

Anybodys is a minor character in the musical and was played as a “tomboy” in the original 1961 film.

In 2020, Disney Pixar’s animated movie Onward was also banned by several Middle Eastern countries, including Qatar and Saudi Arabia, due to a brief mention of a lesbian relationship.

The children’s film was celebrated for featuring Disney’s first ever openly LGBT+ character, a gay cyclops police officer voiced by lesbian actor Lena Waithe.

Despite the character’s sexuality being so subtle viewers could miss it, expressed in a single line: “It’s not easy being a new parent – my girlfriend’s daughter got me pulling my hair out,” several countries opted to censor the line.

Russian distributors censored the character, while Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia banned the movie altogether. 

Homosexuality is illegal across many Gulf countries, with Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates known to have issued corporal punishment and even death for same-sex relationships.

Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of West Side Story will hit UK cinemas on Friday. If you can’t wait till then, you can always watch a viral clip of Cher literally playing every single West Side Story character.