Pakistani authorities have banned filmmaker Saim Sadiq's critically-acclaimed film Joyland alleging that it contains "highly objectionable material", months after a certificate was issued clearing the movie for public viewing.
Joyland, which is also Pakistan's official Oscar entry, was granted the certificate by the government on August 17. However, objections were recently raised over its contents.
It prompted the ministry of information and broadcasting to ban the film apparently to avoid a backlash by conservative elements of the country.
In its notification of November 11, the ministry said the film does not conform with the country's "social values and moral standards".
"Written complaints were received that the film contains highly objectionable material which do not conform with the social values and moral standards of our society and is clearly repugnant to the norms of decency and morality' as laid down in Section 9 of the Motion Picture Ordinance, 1979,” the minister said in the notification.
Sadiq's directorial debut film will compete for a spot in the final five of the best international feature category at the 2023 Academy Awards.
In its order, the ministry banned the movie's screening in the country. The film was scheduled for theatrical release in Pakistan on November 18.
"In exercise of the powers conferred by Section 9(2) (a) of the said Ordinance and after conducting a comprehensive inquiry, the Federal Government declares the feature film titled Joyland as an uncertified film for the whole of Pakistan in the cinemas which fall under the jurisdiction of CBFC with immediate effect," the order read.
Joyland follows a patriarchal family, craving for the birth of a baby boy to continue the family line, while their youngest son secretly joins an erotic dance theatre and falls for a trans woman.
Sadiq wrote and directed the film which features an ensemble cast of Sania Saeed, Ali Junejo, Alina Khan, Sarwat Gilani, Rasti Farooq, Salmaan Peerzada and Sohail Sameer.
Mushtaq Ahmad Khan, the only senator of hardline Jamaat-e-Islami in the Pakistan Senate, welcomed the government's decision to ban the film, saying it was against Islam.
"Pakistan is an Islamic country and no law, ideology or activity can be allowed against,” he tweeted in Urdu.
In a Twitter thread, actor Sarwat Gilani slammed the Pakistani authorities for caving into pressure from "some malicious people" who are running a smear campaign against the film.
"Shameful that a Pakistani film made by 200 Pakistanis over 6 years that got standing ovations from Toronto to Cairo to Cannes is being hindered in its own country. Don't take away this moment of pride and joy from our people!
"No one's forcing anyone to watch it! So don't force anyone to not watch it either! Pakistani viewers are smart enough to know what they want to watch or not. Let Pakistanis decide! Don't insult their intelligence and our hard work!" she wrote, using the hashtag #ReleaseJoyland.
Joyland became the first Pakistani movie to be screened at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival where it won the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize and Queer Palm award.
The movie was also screened at the Toronto International Film Festival and the Busan International Film Festival.
On Friday, it won the Asia Pacific Screen Awards' young cinema award, given in partnership with critics' association NETPAC and the Griffith Film School.