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EDITORIAL: Pakistan’s internationally acclaimed film Joyland was scheduled for release at home on November 18, but was banned by the relevant ministry as Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif had initially caved in to pressure from obscurantist elements. Two days later, this decision was reversed, removing obstacles to the way for screening of the film after censoring several ‘objectionable’ scenes. Joyland is the first Pakistani movie that has won accolades in several international film festivals, including the Jury Price in the ‘Un Certain Regard’ category and a standing ovation at the prestigious Festival de Cannes. Notably, after its history making success, Joyland was nominated as Pakistan’s official entry for the Hollywood Academy Awards (Oscars).

Yet a rare occasion for celebrating a made-in-Pakistan film has been turned into disappointment by acceding to the demands of usual suspects who have declared Joyland “highly objectionable” for portraying a love affair between a man and a transgender woman as if it is negation of reality. To them, transsexuals are lesser beings who have no rights or needs like men and women. They are the way they are not out of choice but because the nature gives them sex chromosomes that do not fit them into male or female categories. Like ‘straight’ persons they can, and have every right to fall in love. The movie has received as much attention as it has for its intelligent and elegant depiction of this fact of life. It has done Pakistan proud for making a film that resonates with worldwide audiences, which is why the government proposed it as its official entry for an Oscar. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister got cold feet as soon the Jamaat-i-Islami and some similar groups declared it “indecent and immoral”.

These self-appointed keepers of the nation’s morality must not be allowed to stifle artistic expression. Instead of bowing to their wishes the government should have listened to voices of reason, including that of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, which while terming the withdrawal of certification for Joyland as “rabidly transphobic” has raised very valid concerns about its producers’ right to freedom of expression. The government has a responsibility to foster not discourage artistic creativity, considered vital for public enlightenment in all functioning democracies. Artists ought to have freedom to imagine and create works of art, and the people to see them. Those who find Joyland “repugnant” are under no compulsion to watch it; by the same token, others must have the prerogative to make their own decisions.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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