Joyland: Trans film executive produced by Malala Yousafzai banned after ‘complaints’ in Punjab

Malala speaking into a microphone

Malala Yousafzai has spoken in defence of Joyland, a film about trans love that has been banned in Punjab.

Joyland was to be banned across Pakistan after the government rescinded the film’s censorship certification.

A statement from the Information and Broadcasting Ministry wrote that the decision came after written complaints of “highly objectionable material” which went against “decency and morality”.

Although the government made a U-turn on this decision on Wednesday (16 November), the Punjab Information and Culture Department has released a follow up statement maintaining its ban.

It means the film won’t be released anywhere in the Punjab region, including the city of Lahore, where the film is based.

In a letter to producer Samad Khoosat, officials wrote the film would not be able to be exhibited due to “persistent complaints from different quarters.”

Malala Yousafzai wrote in defence of the film, directed by Saim Sadiq. She is an executive producer on the project.

“When a film like Sadiq’s raises up working class or trans characters, and women struggling to assert themselves against rigid and very real social norms, we turn away,” she wrote in Variety.

“In doing so, we reject the spectacular talent of Pakistani artists that a film like Joyland represents.

“So many of our best and brightest — from Kumail Nanjiani to Kamila Shamsie to Shahzia Sikander — have found more success in Europe or the US.

“What message are we sending to the next generation who, like Sadiq, want to make films in Karachi or Swat Valley, when we ban art by our own people?”.
The film, starring transgender actress Alina Khan who plays Biba, a trans starlet, was the first Pakistani film to be selected for Cannes Film Festival.

It follows Haider (Ali Junejo), a married man who falls in love with Biba after joining a dance troupe, and has been put forward for Oscar consideration.

Khan also spoke about the ban, telling The Guardian: “I’ve been very sad. There’s nothing against Islam and I don’t understand how Islam can get endangered by mere films.”

Khan also opened up about her experiences growing up as transgender in Pakistan, adding: “My family did not accept me, but neither did society.”

She recalled how she felt after Joyland received two standing ovations and accolades at Cannes.

“Tears were trickling down my face while I continued smiling. I don’t know whether the tears were of joy, were for all the hard work that I put in, or for my struggles since I was a child and that continue

“For the first time in my life, I felt my talent preceded my gender, I was given so much respect.”

Co-star Rasti Farooq also took to Twitter after the ban announcement. “Despite all the love the film has received around the world, we were most excited to bring the film home — to the people this story was written for,” she wrote.

In particular Farooq reminded people that Khwajasira (best translated as transgender) characters have previously been depicted in Pakistani cinema.

“What is new is that the character is portrayed, for once, with respect and complexity by a member of the community, instead of a man in mock drag,” she said.

The first viewings of Joyland will take place across Pakistan on 18 November, with the exception of the province of Punjab, as campaigners continue their fight.

This comes weeks after Pakistan’s landmark trans right law came under attack by anti-LGBTQ+ party, Jamaat-e-Islami.