Some countries have their own specific censorship rules but in some cases, they are really specific and quite strange.
Last year I was so shocked when I heard that the movie Coco had been a massive success in China. Not because of China per se, but because it managed to pass through their strict censorship rules forbidding the appearance of ghosts or supernatural beings to be screened in movie theaters, television, and even the Internet. Regularly, movies with this type of content are cut or altered. But since the movie is all about the protagonist being trapped in the afterlife, it was such a big news for it to pass those strict rules. I mentioned this because as you can see there are countries with strict censorship rules that might seem a bit extreme or even nonsensical for many, and that in their history have banned movies we wouldn’t really imagine could harm anybody. The following are those strange cases in which movies we could consider harmless were banned for some reason around the world.
Zoolander (2001) Dir. Ben Stiller
Ok, Zoolander might have some irreverent, sometimes explicit sense of humor, I get that, but this wasn’t the reason why the movie was banned in Iran. Censorship standards in this country forbid the screening of films that depict or promotes homosexuality and LGBT rights. So, even when there isn’t really any of these in the film, for the Iranian censorship laws the lavish and fabulous lifestyle of these hilarious models was too much. Well, that was the official reason, others believe it’s because the film could plant the idea of killing a member of the government in their audience. Who knows?
Avatar (2010) Dir. James Cameron
Avatar might be one of the highest-grossing films ever but it’s just as bad as the money they spent on it (sorry if you like it). Well, not even all those millions and high technology were enough to keep the movie in theaters in China. After only two weeks from its premiere, the government ordered the removal of the film from all the theaters of the country, out of fear of the film inspiring the Chinese population to revolt just as the Na’vi natives did in the film. Later it was announced that James Cameron was going to release a 2D version of the movie which was automatically banned from the country.
The Simpsons Movie (2007) Dir. David Silverman
Who would ever dare to ban The Simpsons? Ok, I’m guessing many could due to its blunt jokes and strong opinions towards certain politics in determined countries that could mean its banning. But no, it wasn’t Fidel Castro nor Queen Elizabeth the ones who banned the not-so-great movie of our favorite yellow family. It was actually in Burma and the reasons are really strange. Apparently, by the time the movie came out, there was a political and social strife in the country in which the rebels used colors red and yellow as their flags. At the time, the government decided to ban in movies and television everything in which those colors dominated so that people would not associate it with the rebellious group. I told you, hard to believe, isn’t it?
Shrek 2 (2004) Dir. Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury, and Conrad Vernon
This one is perhaps one of my favorite Shrek movies, and when I read this I was trying to think so hard on what on earth could offend a country so much to actually take it from all movie theaters. It happened in Israel and no, there wasn’t any anti-semitic joke what sparked the hatred, moreover it wasn’t anything the film producers did, but the Israeli company that dubbed the film. There’s a scene in which a character threatens to castrate another by saying “let’s Bobbitt him” making reference to the case of Lorena Bobbitt when she cut her husband’s penis. In the Israeli version, they changed Bobbit for the famous singer David Door who is known for having a very high pitched falsetto. The singer issued a lawsuit which he won and the movie was withdrawn until the joke was removed. How easy would it be if he had just laughed about it just as many of the referenced did?
2012 (2009) Dir. Roland Emmerich
It’s understandable to have a fear of natural apocalyptic disasters but is it enough reason to ban a film? Of course not, especially if we’re talking about North Korea, right? It turns out that 2012 was the year of the centenary of Kim Il-sung’s (founder of North Korea, known as “The Great Leader”) birthday. At the time, the supreme leader back then, Kim Jong-Il had announced that it was going to be the year in which the country would become a superpower so they didn’t want anything that could jinx their special date. Obviously, a film saying that terrible natural disasters would obliterate the world on their lovely date was out of the question.
E.T. (1982) Dir. Steven Spielberg
My heart feels warm whenever I mention this case. Turns out that our favorite extraterrestrial was banned in Sweden, Finland, and Norway because it depicted adults as the enemies of children and that was very dangerous according to their Censorship board. The best part of the story isn’t that, but the fact that people actually started protests in these countries claiming that this was a children’s movie for children to watch. In Sweden, for instance, the film had an age limit and only those over 11 could actually see it, in Finland it was an 8-year limit, and in Norway, it was 12. Still, no matter the protest the board members maintained their standby claiming that the movie could be traumatizing for younger audiences. Because, yes, E.T. still haunts me in my adulthood.
I’ve always been against censorship of all kinds even when I don’t agree or feel offended by what they’re portraying only because I feel we all have the right to express our views. Nevertheless, I do understand that in some cases the reasoning behind it. But these examples are just beyond my understanding.
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