Islamabad, Pakistan CNN —
The Pakistani government has blocked the nationwide release of Joyland, the first Pakistani film to screen at the Cannes Film Festival, just a week ahead of its scheduled theatrical release in the South Asian country.
“Joyland” tells a love story between the youngest son of a “happily patriarchal family together” and a transgender starlet he meets after secretly joining an erotic dance theater, according to a synopsis on the Cannes Film Festival website.
In August, the country’s Central Board of Film Censors (CBFC) issued a certificate allowing the film’s release, but on Friday, Pakistan’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting issued a notice saying it was now “uncertified”.
The official statement said written complaints had been received that the film contained “highly objectionable material” that did not conform to “the social values and moral standards of our society”.
The ministry’s notice says cinemas under the jurisdiction of the CBFC will not be able to show the film.
“Joyland” won the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize and the Unofficial Queer Palm in Cannes in May. It was then submitted to the Oscars as Pakistan’s official entry for the International Feature Film Awards. However, it must be in theaters at least seven days before November 30 to compete for awards.
Although Joyland may not be released in Pakistan, it could still qualify in this category if it is “screened for at least seven consecutive days outside of the United States and its territories in a commercial paid-admission cinema,” according to the officials Academy Rules.
A close aide to the Prime Minister of Pakistan on Tuesday tweeted that a “high-level committee” evaluated the complaints against Joyland and reviewed its ban.
“The committee will examine the complaints and the reasons to decide on his release in Pakistan,” said Counselor Salman Sufi.
The review comes after the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan released a expression on Sunday he condemned the government’s withdrawal of certification for Joyland as “rabidly transphobic” and a violation of film producers’ right to freedom of expression.
“Pakistan’s viewers have the right to choose what to watch,” the statement said.
Saim Sadiq, the film’s director, argued in a post on Instagram that the ministry’s reversal was “absolutely unconstitutional and illegal” and urged them to reconsider.
“Restore the right of our citizens to see the film that has made their country’s cinema proud around the world,” wrote Sadiq.
“Our film was viewed and certified by all three censorship authorities in August 2022. The 18th Amendment to Pakistan’s Constitution gives all provinces autonomy to make their own decisions. But the ministry suddenly gave in under pressure from some extremist factions – who haven’t seen the film – and poked fun at our federal censorship agency by making their decision irrelevant.”
The ban has sparked public outcry and a social media campaign using the hashtag #releasejoyland.
Rasti Farooq, one of the film’s actresses, posted on Instagram to support the release efforts.
“I stand by my film and everything it says with every fiber of my being,” said Farooq.
Pakistani actor Humayun Saeed, who stars in the fifth season of Netflix series The Crown, also got involved.
“Joyland has done Pakistan proud by becoming the first South Asian film to win the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. It is a story of our people, told by our people for our people. Hoping it gets released to those very people #ReleaseJoyland,” he tweeted.