Saudi Arabia has asked Disney to cut “LGBTQ references” from Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness before it can be screened in the kingdom, an official said on Monday – but denied earlier reports that the film has been banned.
Disney has so far declined the requested edits to the Doctor Strange sequel, slated for release around the world next week. The cuts amount to “barely 12 seconds” in which a lesbian character, America Chavez, played by the actor Xochitl Gomez, refers to her “two moms”, according to Nawaf Alsabhan, Saudi Arabia’s general supervisor of cinema classification.
“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.”
He added: “We sent it to the distributor, and the distributor sent it to Disney, and Disney has told us they are not willing.”
But Alsabhan disputed reports that the movie had been banned outright.
“It will never be banned,” he told Agence France-Presse. “There’s no reason to ban the movie. It’s a simple edit … So far they have refused. But we haven’t closed the door. We’re still trying.”
On Friday the Hollywood Reporter said there were unconfirmed reports that the movie had also been banned in Kuwait. Advance tickets had been removed from sale in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar, but not in the United Arab Emirates.
Asked on Monday about the movie, which stars Benedict Cumberbatch, an employee for AMC Cinemas in Saudi Arabia said it had been “withdrawn”.
The dust-up is not the first time a Marvel movie has fallen foul of Saudi regulators. In November The Eternals, which features a gay couple, prompted edit requests from Gulf countries including Saudi Arabia. Disney refused to make the cuts and the movie did not screen there.
Saudi Arabia lifted a decades-long ban on all cinemas in late 2017, part of a series of social reforms spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman aimed at shaking up the deeply conservative kingdom.
Movie ticket sales totalled US$238m in 2021, a 95% increase from the previous year, Variety magazine reported in January.
Homosexuality is a capital offense in Saudi Arabia, known for its strict interpretation of Islamic sharia law, which forms the basis of its judicial system.
Disney’s stance on LGBTQ rights has sparked controversy in the US. On Friday Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, signed a law that eliminates a statute that has for decades allowed Disney to act as a local government in Orlando, the home of the Disney World theme park.
The move was the latest episode in a dispute with Florida officials after the company criticised the passage in March of a law banning school lessons on sexual orientation.