Dubai (Reuters) – The United Arab Emirates will not screen Sony’s “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse”, Vox Cinemas said on Thursday without explanation, amid debate online and among regional movie fans about the animated film’s treatment of transgender themes.
The film, a sequel to 2018’s Oscar-winning “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”, was released on June 2 in the United States and was set for a June 22 release in the Gulf region.
However Vox, a subsidiary of retail conglomerate Majid Al Futtaim, said in response to a query via Facebook Messenger that the movie would not be released in the UAE. Majid Al Futaim did not respond to a request for comment.
Major cinema chains in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain do not list the movie on their websites’ “coming soon” sections, including Vox, Novo, and Reel cinemas.
The film has sparked debate online about whether the character Gwen Stacy is trans, and a scene in a trailer shows a sign in the background that reads “protect trans kids”.
Reuters could not determine if that was the reason the film was pulled.
The UAE Media Council on Monday said on Twitter it “will not allow the circulation or publication of content contrary to the values and principles of the UAE and the standards of media content in force in the country.” The Council gave no further details or referred to any specific content.
In the socially conservative Middle East, any deviation from traditional sexual norms is considered taboo and in many countries it is a criminal offence.
“I’m with the directive of not showing this movie. We don’t want to show the next generation that this is something normal. It’s not normal, our religion told us that there’s only male and female genders,” Abdullah Al-Oufi, a Saudi, told Reuters in Riyadh.
“I see that the decision of stopping the movie is a sovereign decision, and it’s our right to express our opinion,” said Sami al-Shoraim, a young Saudi in Riyadh, adding that movies should respect their viewers’ values.
Vox, which operates across the Gulf, had said in a Facebook post on Sunday that tickets were now available ahead of release. However, tickets on Thursday were not shown as available for purchase on Vox’s websites for Gulf countries.
Several cinema customer service lines did not say why the film was not listed and government bodies in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Kuwait’s information ministry said it had not yet received the film for consideration.
In June 2022 the UAE banned Walt Disney-Pixar’s animated feature film “Lightyear” from screening because it features characters in a same-sex relationship. The youth and culture ministry said it “violated the nation’s media content standard”.