Pakistan has reversed a previous decision to show its Oscar entry Joyland and has banned it from cinemas, a government official said.
The film, which features a love story between a married man and a transgender woman, is Pakistan’s entry for next year’s Academy Awards and was a prize winner at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
In a statement issued late on Sunday night, Joyland director Saim Sadiq condemned the government decision, calling it “unconstitutional and illegal”.
The on-screen relationship between two characters has angered some conservatives for weeks in Muslim-majority Pakistan, where transgender people are considered outcasts by many despite some progress on transgender rights.
A landmark Supreme Court ruling designates transgender people as a third gender, acknowledging that they identify as neither male nor female.
The law is intended to protect the rights of transgender people.
Mobashir Hasan, the Pakistani government’s principal information officer, said the film is “uncertified”, meaning it is barred from screening in cinemas under the jurisdiction of a central censor board.
He did not explain why the film had lost its certification, despite being previously approved by the country’s three film censor boards, and said the reversal of the decision was allowed under a 1979 order.
It was not immediately clear which cinemas would be affected or how a ban will be enforced.
Mr Hasan shared a notice to senior government officials that Joyland is uncertified “in the whole of Pakistan” in cinemas under the Central Board of Film Censors’ jurisdiction.
Tahir Hassan, chairman of the CBFC, said one board had “uncertified” the film and that he was not sure about the other two.
Salman Sufi, an adviser to Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, said he would ask the information minister to review the film and the ban.
He told The Associated Press that a ban on a film like Joyland, highlighting issues faced by the transgender people in Pakistan, “strips them of their right” to talk about their issues.
Mr Sufi said marginalised communities deserve a voice, like everyone else, including politicians.
“Art is the best form for it, rather than blockages of roads or protesting,” he said, speaking in a personal capacity.
Sadiq said in an Instagram post that the film was seen and certified by all three censor boards in August 2022.
“The Pakistani constitution gives all provinces the autonomy to make their own decisions. Yet the ministry suddenly caved under pressure from a few extremist factions – who have not seen the film – and made a mockery of our federal censor board by rendering their decision irrelevant,” he said.
Earlier this year, the Pakistani government launched a hotline for transgender people in an effort to protect them from discrimination and harassment.
The government is attempting to pass an amendment to its transgender rights law, to allow people to choose their gender identity for previously issued government documents, educational certificates, and national identity cards.
But the proposed amendments have caused controversy, with hardline clerics opposing them.
Joyland is due to release in Pakistan on November 18, coinciding with Transgender Awareness Week, and preliminary voting for the Academy Awards begins next month.