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Pakistan’s Trans Romance Drama ‘Joyland’ Cleared for Theatrical Release Following Local Censor Review

The film has been submitted for the Oscars’ International Feature category

Pakistani film “Joyland” has been greenlit for release following a censor review in the country.

“The film #Joyland has been cleared for release by the Censor board review committee formed at the direction of PM @CMShehbaz,” Salman Sufi, an aide to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sherif, tweeted. “Freedom of speech is fundamental right & should be nourished within ambits of the law.”

“Joyland”, which is written and directed by Saim Sadiq, centers around a relationship between the youngest son of a “happy patriarchal joint family” and a transgender woman he meets after secretly joining an erotic dance theater.

The film, which won the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize at the Canne Film Festival in May and has been submitted as the country’s entry for international feature at next year’s Oscars, was banned by Pakistan’s Ministry Of Information and Broadcasting for “highly objectionable material” just one week before its theatrical release.

The ban coincided with a social media campaign which claimed that the film was in conflict with the social values of Islam and Pakistan. Despite a new law that protects their rights and a Supreme Court ruling designating them as a “third gender”, transgender people continue to be scrutinized in the Muslim-majority country.

Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission condemned the government’s decision to withdraw its certification of the film, calling the move “rabidly transphobic” and a violation of the producers’ right to freedom of expression.

Sadiq urged the government in an Instagram post to reconsider the decision, calling it “absolutely unconstitutional and illegal.”

“Our film got seen and certified by all three censor boards in August 2022. The 18th amendment in the Pakistani constitution gives all of provinces the autonomy to make their own decision,” he wrote. “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.”

In order to qualify for the Oscars, “Joyland” must be in theaters for at least seven days before November 30. According to Academy rules, entries for the international feature category can qualify outside their country of origin if they are “theatrically exhibited outside of the United States and its territories for at least seven consecutive days in a commercial motion picture theater for paid admission.”

Sufi told the Associated Press that the board had approved the film’s release with “minor cuts.” However, he did not elaborate further on what they would entail.

“Transgender people are as much citizens of Pakistan as anyone else,” he added. “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.”

“Joyland” is scheduled for release in Pakistani cinemas on Friday.