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Joyland is Pakistan’s official submission to the Oscars in the best international feature category and it won a top honor at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. The movie was previously approved for wide release in Pakistan, but just a week ahead of its scheduled opening Friday, Pakistan’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting changed its decision and instituted a ban.
Written and directed by Saim Sadiq, the film features a love story between a married man and a transgender woman, which sparked controversy among some conservatives in the Muslim majority country. The ban was issued after a concerted social media campaign that targeted the movie, claiming it contravened Pakistani and Islamic social values.
Salman Sufi, an aide to Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif who was vocal in his opposition to the earlier ban, took to Twitter on Wednesday to celebrate the reversal:”The film #Joyland has been cleared for release by the Censor board review committee formed at the direction of [Prime Minister Sharif],” he wrote. “Freedom of speech is fundamental right & should be nourished within ambits of the law.”
Sufi described the cuts that would be made to Joyland as “minor” in a follow-up interview with the Associated Press, but declined to detail which scenes would be altered. He says the film could be released as soon as Friday, its originally scheduled opening day.
Transgender people continue to face persecution and extreme social stigma in Pakistan, although some progress was recently achieved with the introduction of a new law that protects their rights and a Supreme Court ruling designating them as a “third gender.”
“Transgender people are as much citizens of Pakistan as anyone else,” Sufi told the AP. “We have launched a hotline for their issues as well from the prime minister’s office and the prime minister is fully committed to safeguarding their rights.”
The ban briefly threatened Joyland’s Oscar chances, as all international feature contenders must have a minimum seven-day theatrical run in their country of origin or a similar run outside their home nation, to qualify for the Academy Awards. In response to the ban, French distributor Condor Films stepped in to say that it would give the film a one-week qualifying release in French cinemas starting Nov. 18, ahead of its scheduled, longer release in France in December.
In her Cannes review, The Hollywood Reporter‘s critic Lovia Gyarkye praised the film as “an aching consideration of gender and sexuality.”
Joyland premiered in Cannes, where it won the Jury Prize in Un Certain Regard. Film Constellation is handling international sales for the movie, with North American rights with WME Independent.
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