Tim Allen and Tom Hanks voice Buzz Lightyear and Sheriff Woody in Pixar’s Toy Story.
Dubai, United Arab Emirates – Disney Pixar’s animated film Lightyear hits theaters this week and is expected to attract avid Toy Story fans from a number of countries around the world.
However, not in the United Arab Emirates.
The UAE’s Media Regulatory Office announced Monday it would ban the film’s release based on what it described as “violating the country’s media content standards,” the office wrote in a tweet. The feature film was due to be released in UAE cinemas on Thursday.
The government agency didn’t specify in its tweet which part of “Lightyear” violated its content standards, but executive director Rashid Khalfan Al Nuaimi told Reuters that it was based on the inclusion of gay characters. The film shows a same-sex relationship and a brief kiss.
The decision drew mixed reactions online, with some Twitter users praising the move.
“Thank you for saving our children,” said one user, whose bio included UAE flags, in response to the tweet.
Others have criticized the ban, with one user writing, “A country still living in the 14th century.”
Late Tuesday in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates’ Vox Cinemas website announced “Lightyear” was still set to premiere on Thursday. Disney did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.
An inflatable Disney+ logo is pictured at a press event ahead of the launch of a streaming service in the Middle East and North Africa at the Dubai Opera in Dubai, United Arab Emirates June 7, 2022.
Yousef Saba | reuters
Homosexuality is criminalized in the United Arab Emirates as well as in the rest of the Gulf States and in the majority of the Muslim world. According to entertainment news website Deadline Hollywood, “Lightyear” will not be set in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Egypt or Indonesia – the latter is the world’s most populous Muslim country with 274 million people.
It also won’t play in Malaysia, according to a tweet from the country’s major cinema chain GSC, which includes a photo of Pixar’s Buzz Lightyear character and the words “No beyond” — a reference to the character’s catchphrase “to infinity and beyond.” “
The UAE’s ban comes despite an announcement last year that the country would no longer censor films. This change was part of a broader series of modernization reforms, including the decriminalization of premarital sex and a shift from Islamic weekend (Friday-Saturday) to Saturday-Sunday weekend to become more competitive globally and attract additional foreign investment and talent.
Sunbathers sit on a beach in the Gulf Emirate of Dubai on July 24, 2020, while the Burj al-Arab hotel can be seen behind.
KARIM SAHIB | AFP via Getty Images
For years, the UAE has distinguished itself as a modern, tolerant port in an otherwise very conservative region. The oil-rich desert sheikdom is home to 90% expat population and allows drinking alcohol, wearing bikinis on public beaches and other cultural elements often forbidden in Muslim countries.
Its nightclubs are similar to those in Europe, it regularly hosts concerts by famous rappers and pop stars, and it even relaxed some of its drug laws in the last year. In 2016, she set up a Ministry for Tolerance.
However, homosexuality remains taboo in the country. When the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, published an Instagram post with a rainbow and expressed its support for the LGBTQ+ community, it was met with backlash from users in the country.
This isn’t the first time the US Embassy has celebrated LGBTQ+ rights in the UAE. Last year it raised the Pride flag at its compound, marking the first time a diplomatic mission had raised a gay pride flag in the religiously conservative Arabian Gulf. The British Embassy also hoisted a Pride flag last year.