By Nico Lethbridge
There are a number of mainstream movies that have found themselves banned in countries around the world. Films like Fifty Shades of Grey, Wolf of Wall Street, and The Da Vinci Code are fairly widely censored, often owing to a depiction of values that the governments in question don’t agree with. But some of the reasons are a little more unusual…
The Cambodian government is unique in censoring Kingsman: the Golden Circle. According to their authorities, the film shows Cambodia as the place where “terrorists stay and make trouble for the world”. The distributors weren’t best pleased at the decision and told the government to stop being childish and immature. They went on to state, "Every movie cannot be depicting Cambodia as heaven. You need to face the reality that all countries have criminals!” Their sulking didn’t achieve much, and the film is still banned.
It’s unlikely that the creators of Kingsmanset out to be offensive, but sometimes Hollywood movies actually try to do just that - cause offence. In 2006, the movie 300 nearly caused a political crisis with Iran. The movie follows a band of gallant Spartans bravely defending their democracy from the vast and depraved Persian army, led by its despotic and very horny king Xerxes. Without giving anything away, there’s a lot of killing and you probably guessed which side was getting the battering (the picture below will give you a clue). The timing of the release was crucial as the US and Iran, which is modern day Persia, were very close to going to war.
The Iranian government complained that the film portrayed their Persian forebears in a deeply offensive way, with some even calling it “psychological warfare”. Several critics in the West, spotting the obvious motive of the movie, weren’t too impressed either. One Guardian columnist said, “If a war kicks off between the US and Iran, I’ll know where to point the finger of blame…and it won’t be at the White House.” Others called it “fascist art” - the band of chiselled, speedo-clad warriors would have certainly been at home in 1930s Germany. Luckily for everyone the movie wasn’t good enough to go to war over, though relations have barely improved since.
Despite that near miss, some Hollywood directors didn’t learn the lesson and several similar movies have come out since. In the 2008 movie Rambo 4, Sylvester Stallone spends 90 minutes slaughtering hapless Burmese people as he heroically saves the benevolent American hostages. The Myanmar government wasted no time in banning it. In fact all the Rambos have left quite a trail of offended victims, with the most recent instalment in 2018, this time to the dismay of the Mexicans. The film got terrible reviews on both sides of the border, even though it was banned in neither. Angry critics placed it in a long line of American movies that “demonise” their neighbour and make it out as lawless and barbaric.
Likewise, the Iraqis were furious after the release of American Sniper, a movie which valorises a sniper who was renowned for killing 160 Iraqis (a US army record). Many said the film portrayed them as little more than “savages and terrorists”. In Baghdad, people stormed out of cinema viewings in protest and it was banned shortly after.
Though the German government rarely bans movies, it is not unknown. The Turkish film Valley of the Wolves was denied German distribution in 2006 because of the anti-semitic representation of Israeli Jews. One critic said they were made out as “barely human”. It was made even more unpalatable by the fact it was due to be released on 28th January which is International Holocaust Memorial Day. The decision met no opposition.
Allowing the distribution of only 20 foreign films a year meanwhile, the Chinese government is one of the more sensitive regimes out there. Unsurprising then that Seven Years in Tibet, a film about China’s violent suppression of Tibet, didn’t get much of a look in. Unfortunately for Brad Pitt all his movies since have been blacklisted, as in fact has he himself.
Sometimes though films are censored for just outright weird reasons. The 2009 apocalypse movie 2012 never made it into North Korean cinemas for the simple reason that 2012 was the 100th birthday of the former president Kim Il-Sung. To be fair, if the world had ended that year it certainly would have ruined the celebrations. The military junta in Myanmar meanwhile, banned The Simpsons Movie purely because of its colour scheme. There was a rebel insurgency at the time fighting against the dictatorship under a “mostly red and yellow” flag. Unfortunately for the Simpsons, their yellow skin was too similar so it was banned.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) probably takes the prize though. The film Babe, which is all about a talking pig, was banned because it’s all about a talking pig and it turns out no speaking animals are allowed on the Chinese silver screen. It seems a little odd given one of the most successful films in China is called Mermaid and is all about a property tycoon who discovers his girlfriend is a mermaid. Babe is really all about a pig that wants to be a dog, so it’s probably more likely that it was banned because such self-determination is dangerous to autocratic regimes, but who knows!
Likewise, no movies featuring ghosts are permitted either which is something the producers of Pirates of the Caribbean learnt the hard way. According to the Chinese Film Bureau they promote “cults or superstition” - at odds with the CCP’s secular principles.
Back to the Future’s crime is that it has time travel in it, another thing that’s outlawed. Marty and the Doc show that by changing the past you can change the present and so apparently the CCP is worried that viewers will discover that if you change the present…you can change the future. They clearly credit the infamous movie with that nugget of wisdom.
In what is possibly the most bizarre banning of all, Christopher Robin was censored because of an internet trend that suggested Chinese president Xi Jinping looked exactly like Winnie the Pooh. Although Japan’s president Shinzo Abe turns out to look very like Eeyore, and Obama a spitting image of Tigger, neither had the inclination to have the film banned.
Perhaps we should all be thankful that no matter how useless our leaders are, we can at least watch Winnie the Poohwhenever we fancy. Having said that, maybe sacrificing Winnie to get rid of Boris wouldn’t be such a high price to pay…