Is Joyland facing curbs for humanising transpersons?

Is Joyland facing curbs for humanising transpersons?

Pakistan's award-winning formal entry for the Oscars was banned right before its release in cinemas.
Updated 14 Nov, 2022

In the month of May this year, Joyland directed by Saim Sadiq made history when it became the first Pakistani feature film to win a feminist-themed award at the prestigious the Cannes Film Festival. Since the project hadn’t been shown in Pakistan, it generated a great deal of curiosity among cinephiles about its subject matter.

Once the film garnered international recognition, it was almost certain that Pakistan’s Oscars Selection Committee would pick it as the formal entry for Oscars 2023, which it did. The next step was its release in Pakistani cinemas. Two months later, on Aug 17, the Central Board of Film Censors (CBFC) issued it the necessary censor certificate, and from Nov 18 the film was (supposed) to be screened in Pakistani cinemas.

But on Nov 11 (Friday), the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, through a notification, cancelled its license. Reason? Point two of the notification reads: “Written complaints were received that the film contains highly objectionable material which do not conform with the social values and moral standards of our society and is clearly repugnant to the norms of ‘decency and morality’ as laid down in Section 9 of the Motion Picture Ordinance, 1979”.

The situation has evoked a strong reaction from the cast and crew of the project. They immediately took to social media with a note. Its director Sadiq issued a statement, saying, “we–as a team–are gutted by this development. I am compelled to say that this sudden U-turn of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting is absolutely unconstitutional and illegal.” He said the ministry had gone against the constitution by asking provincial censor boards to follow its decision as the provinces had got autonomy after the 18th Amendment.

Sarwat Gilani, who plays an important role in the film, pointed out in her tweet: “They’re doing it again! There are smear campaigns to ban Joyland. We need your support to make sure we don’t let these violent, insensitive, extremists win again”.

“Shameful that a Pakistani film made by 200 Pakistanis over six years that got standing ovations from Toronto to Cairo to Cannes is being hindered in its own country. Don’t take away this moment of pride and joy from our people,” she added.

Talking to Dawn, Sana Jafri, the co-producer and casting director of the film, said they had got clearance from the censor boards of the federal capital, Punjab and Sindh where the film was to be screened.

“All the censor boards had made different demands (cuts) in the film and we obliged after which they had cleared it for screening in the cinemas.”

A source says it later transpired that a senator of a religiopolitical party was putting pressure on the Ministry of State for Information and Broadcasting to stop the screening of the film as he alleged that it was promoting the LGBT agenda.

Rejecting the allegations against the film, Jafri said there was nothing against Islam or the Pakistani laws in the film. “The transwoman is one of the three characters of the film which does not promote any LGBT agenda.” According to Jafri, Joyland is a film about the Rana Family that lives in the Gowalmandi area of Lahore. The family’s youngest son, Haider, is jobless and a target of his father’s constant taunts. Haider’s wife works at a salon. However, things take a turn when he gets a job as a background dancer at a Punjabi theatre behind a transwoman called Biba. A tragedy shakes the entire family and makes Haider realise his mistakes.

Jafri explained that the film humanised a transwoman and portrayed her as a common human being.

“She is shown as an independent working person with an agency, which may not be liked by certain people. If she had been portrayed as a victim of torture or in a negative way as transpersons are often shown in the media, nobody would have any objection.”

Jafri said that the movie took six years to complete and the labour of love of at least 200 was at stake now.

Aleena Khan, a transperson, plays the role of the dancer in the movie.

Transpersons rights activist Mehrub Moiz Awan tweeted about it, saying: “Had a cisgender woman or man instead of Aleena Khan played the role of khwajasira dancer, they’d have had no issues with it. But because it’s an actual khwajasira doing so, they have issues. They want khwajasira people to be just begging in the streets.”

Besides Cannes, Joyland has won several awards also at the London Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival and Cairo International Film Festival while it has also been screened at the British Film Institute, Melbourne International Film Festival and Athena International Film Festival. Sadiq, in his statement, added: “A number of people have put in years and years of hard work and money behind this film and we cannot allow that to go to waste based on baseless rumours and complaints from a few individuals that have suddenly overridden the law and the system.

“I urge Pakistan Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to please review this decision and return the right of our citizens to be able to watch the film that has made the country’s cinema proud world over.”

The debate surrounding the ‘material’ of the film aside, it is mind boggling to know that it was three months after the censor boards had approved the film that “the complaints” began to rear their heads. All those who even have a modicum of interest in films and filmmaking knew about its content the moment it saw the light of day. Why the sudden barrage of objections? Why have the powers that be taken note of them now when Joyland has already been selected as the country’s formal Oscars entry.

Originally published in Dawn, November 14th, 2022


M. Saeed Nov 14, 2022 12:05pm
Ah! Our sadistic Censor Board!
NYS Nov 14, 2022 12:11pm
Sarmad Khoosat" Zindagi Tamasha "banned this film also accoladed outside the country, modus operandi to joyland .... Useless cacophony, though it is unanimous nod!
Razak Nov 14, 2022 12:14pm
We are an Islamic nation and we were created as a pure land for Islam and not to compromise with Non-Muslims and their beliefs. If you want secularism or you want to promote LGBT rights or even to tolerate them.......then please go to India or some other secular non-muslim country. We should never compromise on our ideology and beliefs,,...ever! Islam is perfect and is the solution to help us deal with the evils of the modern world.
MA Nov 14, 2022 12:19pm
Don't the filmmakers have a good story to tell? why always be controversial to make money?
Its me Nov 14, 2022 12:52pm
Facing curbs because of de-civilizing the society!
Imran Nov 14, 2022 01:27pm
there is nothing in Sharia against non-binary people who are born with genetic defects and without proper development of genetalia. However there is no room for so called cross dressers, transexuals or gay behavior (LGBTQ) which are strictly prohibited in Sharia. It is as simple as that!
Jigen.m19 Nov 14, 2022 02:01pm
Keep this non sense in the west
Faisal Nov 14, 2022 02:10pm
There is clearly a trend on the media to support anything related to LGBT, from passing of bill to supporting the LGBT community without any regard for the religion. By using words such as 'humanising' the individuals non conforming to the views of the writers, seems to be non human or evil.
Babar Ali Nov 14, 2022 02:30pm
Charaters like Shirmeen & Saim just need their films are screened regardless of the garbage they carry.
Wolf Nov 14, 2022 02:43pm
We have to be Human first then Muslim. How we can be good Muslim without being a good human?
Anonymouseee Nov 14, 2022 03:13pm
Cannes, and the west have different culture and religion. Our norms and culture in Pakistan are different must be respected. We will not our children get exposed to LGBTQ promotions.
A Kishore’s fan Nov 14, 2022 04:08pm
Not for humanizing but for legitimizing the sexual relationship between a man and a transgender . This is encouraging and an attempt to legalize LGBT !
Truth be told Nov 14, 2022 05:42pm
Looks like you consult Imran Khan for narrative building and ended up penning down this article.
Ahmed Nov 14, 2022 07:22pm
It's facing a ban for normalizing homosexuality. That's it. No one has a problem with any sort of human being. Stop trying to strawman the issue. Oscar, Cannes or any other award show is no criteria of excellence
Ten Jee Nov 14, 2022 08:11pm
Is highlighting a tweet from a person who recently made derogatory remarks about marriage and religion, and is generally marked as an offensive out of control provocateur meant to make or break the argument? Scraping the bottom of the celebrity endorsement barrel here. And also, yet again, no counter perspective. Senator Mushtaq Ahmed Khan Zindabaad.
Dr. Salaria, Aamir Ahmad Nov 14, 2022 08:53pm
How can they give a verdict like that without watching the movie?
Soniye Tu Auder Te La Nov 14, 2022 08:54pm
Only Bilawal can undo this ban.
Jondon Nov 14, 2022 09:13pm
@Wolf where does your definition of what is good and bad comes from? The human mind, what the society tells you or somewhere else. That is the question you should be asking
Zeeshan Ahmed Nov 14, 2022 09:17pm
There is a difference between humanising a person, versus normalizing sexual deviancy.
Truth be told Nov 14, 2022 10:17pm
@Ahmed agreed.
jsav123 Nov 14, 2022 10:18pm
Censorship done to promote certain values is not on. Give people the choice to watch and have the space for a discussion of right and wrong. Releasing this movie will not change any laws automatically. No reason to treat Pakistanis as children whose parents have to screen everything before they watch it. Advocates of censorship do not realize that they are arguing to curb their own rights.
Truth be told Nov 14, 2022 10:27pm
Define Transwomen Pakistanis. In Islam there's a male and a female and ones with disambiguous genitalia are clearly put in either of the binary categories based on their behaviour. Whether corrective surgeries come into play based on undeniable evidence is something worth pondering but promoting the Western agenda that one day one wants to change his/her gender and starts identifying as the opposite of sex defined at birth and indulging in LGBQT activities is totally incorrect. Pakistanis use the definition of trans in a different manner than what the West uses it for. Hijra can be a hermaphrodite, can be a forced castration, or disambiguous. Trans in West is someone identifying as opposite of assigned sex at birth without surgical corrections. After correction it is Transexual. In Pakistan there are many transvestite i.e. cross dressers which are also totally banned in Islam. Consequently, clear definition and information needs to be obtained to not complicate things.
Glen D'Abreo Nov 15, 2022 06:43am
However, after receiving complaints that “the film contains highly objectionable material which do not conform with the social values and moral standards of our society and is clearly repugnant to the norms of ’decency and morality: The moral police are out in force ? Whose social values and moral standards of which society are we addressing. What is clearly repugnant to the norms of society as these pillars OF morality think they speak for all? Its the narrow minded in our society that are making the rules what consenting adults can and cannot watch ?
Talha Nov 15, 2022 09:22am
Why do filmmakers equate controversy with quality? What's wrong with making a movie with straight people?
Anonymouseee Nov 15, 2022 09:52am
This is not humanizing transgenders but actually promoting it within our youth which must be stopped.