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Gulf countries ban ‘West Side Story’ over transgender character

Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and Kuwait will not screen Spielberg’s new film remake of the classic Broadway musical

A still from 'West Side Story' by director Steven Spielberg. (Courtesy: 20th Century Films)
A still from 'West Side Story' by director Steven Spielberg. (Courtesy: 20th Century Films)

Six Arab countries have banned Steven Spielberg’s new film version of “West Side Story” due to the movie’s inclusion of a transgender character.

The countries that will not screen the film are Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and Kuwait, according to a report in Variety.

The role in question, named Anybodys, is a transgender character played by the non-binary actor Iris Menas.

Films with LGBTQ+ characters are often censored to various degrees by Arab nations.

Directed and co-produced by Steven Spielberg, with an updated screenplay by Tony Kushner, the new film is set to hit theaters in Israel on December 9.

The tragic love story of Tony and Maria — set against racially charged gang rivalry in New York — has been an American cultural milestone since it first appeared on Broadway in 1957 and as a film four years later.

Spielberg’s dazzling $100-million remake is an act of homage that also seeks to highlight the political messages at the heart of the story.

The gangs — the Puerto Rican Sharks and white Jets — are “really fighting about race,” the 74-year-old director said.

AFP contributed to this report.

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