CAIRO — What does Kuwait have in common with Alabama?
The movie, which has earned more than $350 million worldwide, stars Emma Watson as Belle and Dan Stevens as the Beast. It opened in Kuwait last Thursday with a PG-13 rating, but by this week, the nation’s government-owned cinema company, which runs 11 out of the 13 theaters in the Persian Gulf country, announced that all screenings had been canceled and offered a full refund to anyone who had purchased a ticket.
One board member of the National Cinema Co. told the Associated Press, “We were requested to stop the screening and further censor the movie for things that were deemed offensive by the Ministry of Information's censorship department.”
At issue, apparently, is a scene in which a supporting character, LeFou, is depicted as having a romantic fascination for Gaston and is shown dancing with another man in a ballroom scene said to be three seconds long. The movie’s director, Bill Condon, told a British publication that LeFou, played by Josh Gad, has “a nice, exclusively gay moment.”
The treatment of gays and lesbians in the Middle East is mixed. In Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, homosexuality is criminalized and can lead to fines, lashings and imprisonment. In Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Yemen, it can also lead to the death penalty. But in Jordan, Bahrain and Iraq, homosexuality is not illegal.
Kuwait’s decision followed an effort by censors in Malaysia to edit out controversial scenes from the movie. But after Disney decided to stop the film’s release there, rather than agree to cuts, Malaysian authorities decided to allow the film to be released next week in its entirety. The Malaysian censorship board’s earlier push to censor the film had been widely condemned both at home and abroad, including by the country's tourism minister.
According to the Malay Mail, the minister said gay people exist in the world, even if the film did not have a “gay character,” adding that “I don’t think it is going to influence anyone.”
The movie has also stirred controversy in Russia. Vitaly Milonov, a lawmaker, tried to get the film banned. But it was allowed to be screened uncensored, accompanied by a warning that it was not suitable for children younger than 16.