This Valentine's Day weekend, Fifty Shades of Grey beat all box office competition, and became one of the highest-earning R-rated debuts in cinematic history. By grossing over $8 million in it's opening weekend, it goes without saying that this cultural phenomenon has audiences ready and willing to succumb to Christian Grey's charm as well as his "Red Room of Pain."
However, it looks as if citizens of the United Arab Emirates will join Malaysia, Indonesia and Kenya as people who won't be able to get the same pleasure of watching Fifty Shades in theaters. Due to their stringent censorship laws, the film has officially been banned and put under lock and key as of this week.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, after reviewing the movie for the National Media Council a week ago, the United Arab Emirates have decided to ban Fifty Shades of Grey from theaters due to the high number of scenes deemed unsuitable for the public.
The council's director of media content, Juma Al Leem, made the following statement:
We reviewed the movie in the presence of the distributor and after he realized how many inappropriate scenes there were, he took the decision not to show the movie himself, before we were able to make a decision.
While this decision was made by the distributor, Four Star Films, largely for the purpose of censorship, it was also said to be made in regards to the film's producers. Had the film been allowed to hit theaters, nearly 35 minutes of it would have been cut. With the aim of maintaining good relations with the film's studio, Al Leem said that it wouldn't be fair to paying movie-goers.
It would also not be fair to cinema-goers if they were expecting a full movie and went to a screening which had been altered so much.
There is a bit of a difference here though between Fifty Shades being banned, while last year [The Wolf of Wall Street](movie:16412) was shown with over 45 minutes of cuts. Similarly, this decision was made more by the distribution company than the government, and was self-censored to ensure that the film made it to theaters. The Wolf of Wall Street is a pretty long movie, but 45 minutes takes out a quarter of the film. Naturally, this led to a rather confusing and disjointed film for those who did see it.
However, by making these cuts, The Wolf of Wall Street was able to obtain a 15+ rating in the U.A.E. rather than the 17/18+ it held in many other countries, thus giving more people the opportunity to see the film, albeit a somewhat incoherent version.
Back in 2012, the producers behind Girl With the Dragon Tattoo simply opted to have their film banned from the U.A.E. rather than be subject to the cuts necessary for it to be screened. Arguably, knowing what would need to be edited for it to be deemed appropriate by the proper U.A.E. channels would have compromised the artistic integrity of the film, making it a mere shadow of itself.
It seems like both options have their benefits and downsides, but if I were a producer, I wouldn't want such a large portion of the film to be missing for it to screen. I completely respect the U.A.E.'s right to censor movies that they don't see fit, but at a certain point it begins to compromise too much of the movie.
While I generally lean in opposition to film censorship, foreign or otherwise, I can see why distributors in the U.A.E. would be against screening films that show scenes of such explicit sexual nature.
Survey results released last year by Northwestern University in Qatar partnered with Doha Film Institute took a survey titled "Entertainment Media Use in the Middle East," whose results found that nearly 70% of the 6,035 adults interviewed from Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia and the UAE said that there should be more regulation regarding romantic or violent content in films and television. As we know, in it's most controversial state, Fifty Shades sits right in the middle of romance and violence.
According to Everette E. Dennis, dean and CEO of Northwestern University in Qatar:
Understanding cultural attitudes around entertainment is as important to industry leaders and policymakers as viewership and other audience figures.
As stated earlier, I have an understanding of why these films are censored the way they are, and I hold only the utmost respect for Arab culture. However, I don't believe that it should be up to the government to determine what is or is not suitable for public viewing.
Why not make the film available, in all of its BDSM glory, and let the people decide whether or not they want to see it. Wouldn't it be even more moral to have the film available to you, but to reject it for personal, ethical purposes? Would it not be more laudable to have the vice within reach but to turn it down?
Furthermore, by screening the film, it would be allowing those who want to indulge in the films of Western culture the ability to do so without being government condemnation? What is or is not offensive is specific to individuals, not a nation as a whole.
It may not be surprising that the United Arab Emirates banned [Fifty Shades of Grey](movie:391697), but whether or not it should have been may be a future discussion worth having.