Pakistan reverses ban on local Oscar entry ‘Joyland’

An edited version of the film has been approved for domestic release

The Pakistani government has reversed its ban on local Oscar entry Joyland, according to the head of its Prime Minister’s Strategic Reforms Unit, Salman Sufi. 

In an interview with the Associated Press yesterday (November 17), Sufi announced that the film was approved after a review by a committee formed by Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif albeit with some minor edits, though the senior advisor did not disclose which scenes would be cut.

“The decision is a simple yet powerful message that the government stands by freedom of speech and safeguards it, and cannot allow mere smear campaigns or disinformation to be used as choking creative freedom,” Sufi stated.

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On November 11, the Pakistani government barred the film from a domestic theatrical release, though the film had previously been approved for screening by three censor boards in August. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting’s order stated that it had been receiving complaints about the film’s “highly objectionable material” which was “repugnant to the norms of ‘decency and morality’ as laid down in Section 9 of the Motion Picture Ordinance, 1979”.

Two days later, Sufi tweeted his response to the ban, expressing: “I personally do not believe in banning films that highlight issues faced by marginalised segments of our society. People should be trusted to watch & make their own mind.” He additionally conveyed intentions to discuss a review of the ban with Minister of Information and Broadcasting Marriyum Aurangzeb.

Prime Minister Sharif then formed a review committee on November 14 to evaluate the criticism lobbied against the film and its merits. Two days later, Sufi stated that the committee had decided on a “full board review”, suggesting that the film’s complaints may have been based on inaccurate information: “It is important to not negatively speculate about content without proof.”

Finally on November 16, Sufi declared that the film had been “cleared for release” by Prime Minister Sharif’s committee, before affirming the importance of free speech: “Freedom of speech is fundamental right & should be nourished within ambits of the law.”

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The film’s approval thus keeps the film viable for competition at next year’s Oscars, as films competing for the Best International Feature category must receive a domestic release in order to qualify. Filmmaker Saim Sadiq has not yet publicly commented on the ban’s reversal as of the time of writing.

Joyland is Sadiq’s first feature film and is co-executive produced by Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai. It follows the story of of Haider, the youngest son of the patriarchal Rana family, who betrays their wishes for an additional son when he joins an exotic dance theatre and falls in love with a transgender performer. The film won the jury prize in Cannes Film Festival’s Un Certain Regard category, and also landed a screening at Toronto International Film Festival.

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