Joyland: From Oscar Nomination to Bans

Despite winning critical international acclaim for outstanding performances through gripping storytelling – Joyland has managed to make waves across Pakistan for one key point: its central character being a transgender dancer.

The team involved in the making of the film has urged viewers to demand that the only Pakistani film nominated for the Oscars should be open to public viewership across the country even though many have rallied to have it banned for its sensitive and ‘anti-Islamic concept’ of a relationship between a married man and a transgender woman.

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Although the film manages to pull off presenting a riveting tale, humanizing a marginalized community, it does ruffle feathers for many who question the agenda behind normalizing same-sex relationships. It is pertinent to understand that a country like Pakistan which came into being on the basis of the Two-Nation Theory and recognizes Islam as its state-approved religion, cannot and should not accept homosexuality or any form of same-sex relationships as they are strictly prohibited in Islam. Unlike many other concepts in Islam, however, the Holy Qur’an very clearly states that such a relationship cannot be allowed with reference to the people of Hazrat Lut (A.S.) who witnessed Allah Almighty’s wrath for engaging in same-sex relations.

Another key point that needs to be understood is the difference between being intersex and transgender. It is pertinent to understand that being intersex is having reproductive anatomy that may not necessarily fit into the traditional mold of male/female due to possessing anatomical elements of both sexes. Being transgender, on the other hand, is more a choice on basis of one’s internal identity’. This means that a transgender person essentially chooses to identify as either/or gender. A transgender man, therefore, may have been declared female at birth but would choose to identify as male and may or may not get Gender Affirmation (Confirmation) or Sex Reassignment Surgery. Similarly, a transgender woman may be born male but with age may choose to identify as a woman.

This is essentially why many have rallied to get the film banned; however, artists like Sania Saeed and Sarwat Gillani who have worked on the project argue that having the right to view such a film cannot be taken away from the audience. They argue that although it tackles controversial issues, we cannot prohibit someone from watching it by canceling the film prior to its national release.

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Speaking about the film, Saeed said that the target audience is limited to adults, so we should give them the benefit to decide what is right or wrong for them – if they choose to watch the film, then they should be allowed to do so and if they wish to not see it for any reason, then they should have the liberty to decide that as well. However, banning a film is not the answer, she argues. With regards to the anticipated Oscar nomination, Saeed added that if the film fails to premier in Pakistan, it will also lose out from its running in the Oscars which would be a travesty for the Pakistan film industry.

Joyland was set for release in Pakistan on November 18 but senator Mushtaq Ahmed of the Jamaat-e-Islami demanded a ban on the film based on the controversial subject matter arguing that the film is in fact promoting “homosexuality” in Pakistan after which the Federal Ministry of Information stopped the screening of the film on November 11.

The decision followed many protests on social media with dozens of Pakistani celebrities and people of influence speaking up in favor of the film. As of last night, the Pakistan government allowed Joyland to be released across the country under the condition that questionable scene(s) would be cut out prior to public viewing. In this regard, Salman Sufi, an aide to the Prime Minister of Pakistan said, “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”.

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On the one hand, Joyland is indeed the only Pakistani film to be highly lauded at an international platform such as the Cannes film festival; however, it is also a film that raises important questions about the social strata of the country dividing people on the basis on liberal vs. conservative ideologies raising pertinent questions alongside the commercial value of things.

Should we then primarily view it as an art form and laud the team for their efforts or should we grasp our religious and social identities tighter as we step further into the mold of the 21st-century identity?

At the helm of it all, Joyland is very much a question mark on how we wish to live our lives – riding the tails of the ‘woke’ communities like in the west advocating the liberation of the LGBTQIA+ community and their decisions to live life on their terms or should we remain steadfast and lay down boundaries while affording the marginalized community basic liberties in life? The decision is yours to make.

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