On what basis does Lebanon ban movies?

The recent delay of Barbie’s release date in Lebanon has sparked alarm amongst citizens who were eagerly anticipating the movies’ initial release date on July 20, 2023. Lebanese citizens took to social media platforms to express their outrage and frustration, citing that the delay was going to kill one of the world’s most anticipated double box-office debuts, as Barbie was initially set to begin screening the same day as Christopher Nolan’s highly-anticipated Oppenheimer.

But the delay of Barbie’s release, and the speculation behind its potential ban, are only the tip of the iceberg.

Recent trends in the Lebanese cinema industry show an alarming pattern. In the past two years alone, six movies have been banned from showing in Lebanese cinemas, for mainly religious or political reasons.

The Nun (2022) and Minions: The Rise of Gru (2022), were banned for “offending the Christian faith.” Other movies such as Lightyear (2022), and Spiderman: Across the Spiderverse (2023) were banned for the inclusion of LGTBQ+ characters. Finally, Scream VI (2023) was banned for sexual and immoral behaviour, while Death on the Nile (2022) was banned for featuring Israeli actor, and ex-IDF soldier, Gal Gadot.

In the past, Lebanon has often banned movies for these very reasons, but in recent years, minor things can get a movie fully banned from local cinemas. In the case of the latest Spiderman movie, the delay in the movie’s release, and then eventual ban, was because of a transflag appearing in the background of one minor scene. 

Despite this, Lebanon continued to screen The Flash (2023), choosing only to edit out the scene where Israeli actress Gal Gadot makes a brief guest appearance. Not only so, but Jennifer Lawrence’s latest appearance in No Hard Feelings (2023) was also screened, despite the movie’s plot line relying heavily on “sexual and immoral behaviour.”

The movie also featured a sequence in which the actress appeared fully nude, but rather than banning the movie as has been the case in various other instances, the scene was only edited out.

With no official or public indications on what could cause a film to be banned in Lebanon, it seems the selection process is rather haphazard or randomized. In the case of Scream VI, “sexual and immoral behaviour” meant the film never saw the light of day in Lebanon, while “sexual and immoral behaviour” largely led to the success of No Hard Feelings.

Many have begun to speculate that Barbie is now suffering from “the Spiderman treatment”, where the movie’s initial delay could mean its eventual ban. Not only does this reflect on the fragility of the government, where movies are banned as a means to control the population, but it could generate some potential losses for the Lebanese cinema industry.

Barbie has demonstrated extensive and immaculate marketing plans, which include a wide array of brand partnerships, the installation of a Barbie Dreamhouse Airbnb in Los Angeles, the release of a soundtrack featuring many pop icons such as Billie Eilish, Nicki Minaj, Ice Spice, Charli XCX and more, and the intricate detailing of Margot Robbie’s red-carpet outfits to resemble those of past Barbie dolls.

All these plans have made Barbie one of the most-anticipated movies of 2023, leaving fans worldwide excited for the film’s debut. In Lebanon, this could mean a huge box office success as moviegoers flock to the cinemas to view the movie. But after its delay, moviegoers were filled with frustration and rage, with many suggesting they may stream the movie online rather than wait an additional month for its box-office release.

The delay of Barbie’s release is not an issue of itself, but a part of a much bigger problem. With bans on movies becoming more popular, what could be next?