‘West Side Story’ Has Been Banned in 6 Countries and Critics Think They Know Exactly Why

West Side Story premiered to rave reviews and plenty of award nominations. But not everyone will get the chance to see this stunning piece of cinema. Steven Spielberg‘s retelling of a classic tale — itself a retelling of an even older classic tale — won’t appear in at least six countries.

While the exact reason for the ban hasn’t always been explicitly stated, fans are pretty sure they’ve figured it out. The West Side Story ban has to do with the choice to provide LGBTQ representation in the latest version of the tale of star-crossed lovers. 

‘West Side Story’ is a fresh take on an old tale

Carol Lawrence, Rachel Zegler, and Rita Moreno laugh together at a premiere Of "West Side Story"
(L-R) Carol Lawrence, Rachel Zegler, and Rita Moreno at a premiere Of West Side Story | Jon Kopaloff/WireImage

West Side Story first premiered as a Broadway musical in 1957. While the setting might seem nostalgic now, it was actually a modern-day version of Romeo and Juliet during its premiere. Instead of the warring Capulets and Montagues, West Side Story places the two lovers on different sides of teenage street gangs: the Puerto Rican Sharks and the white Jets.

With catchy tunes and dance numbers that left audiences amazed, the original became a flashy film in 1961 when it won multiple Academy Awards. When Spielberg was first recognized as an incredible director, he hoped to recreate West Side Story one day.

Fastforward to 2021 and the director premiered the much-anticipated remake of the classic story. For a film so beloved and decorated, the stakes were high. But critics have largely been impressed with Spielberg’s take. Critics have remarked on its ongoing cultural relevance and heaped praise on the supporting cast and dancers. 

Several countries banned ‘West Side Story’

Despite the primarily positive reception, several countries have banned West Side Story from premiering. As Deadline reports, the list of countries prohibiting the film includes Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, and the UAE. In some of these countries, the condition of release involves a list of cuts requested from Disney, which distributed the film. But Disney allegedly refused to make the cuts, so the movie will not get a theatrical release in these countries. 

It’s widely believed the cuts and the bans are related to the character Anybodys, a transgender character. As ScreenRant reports, Spielberg’s adaptation has Anybodys “played by non-binary actor Iris Menas.” The character “is no longer a tomboy and is instead a trans man, fixing a major problem with the character in the original.”

While the original character fell flat and didn’t make much sense to many critics, this update changes things: “Instead of the story being played for laughs as a girl tries to be one of the boys, it’s a serious and heartfelt story of a trans man seeking acceptance and trying to prove himself to the Jets.” The inclusion of Anybodys as a trans man is likely the bans’ source. 

Other award-winning films have faced international bans

West Side Story is far from the only film to receive a ban. The Culture Trip explains that movies have gotten banned for many reasons. For example, Ireland and Singapore banned A Clockwork Orange for decades because of its violent nature. Similar concerns kept The Texas Chainsaw Massacre out of West Germany and Singapore. Sometimes, censored versions of the film are allowed instead, but other works are considered unacceptable in any form. 

As for works banned for LGBTQ representation, many Middle Eastern countries as well as China banned Brokeback Mountain.

The UAE, as Gulf News reports, tends to ban films with excessive sexual content regardless of the sexual orientation of the characters or actors. When a movie has too much sexual content to reasonably edit out, the country has a tendency to prohibit it entirely — a fate suffered by Black Swan and Love and Other Drugs

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