One the eve of its release in American theaters, Marvel Studios’s latest blockbuster, Eternals, has reportedly been banned from a number of Gulf nations, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the star-studded film — which features Salma Hayek and Angelina Jolie making their Marvel Cinematic Universe debuts — no longer appears on websites in those countries, where it was set to start playing on Nov. 11. (Yahoo Entertainment has reached out to the Walt Disney Company for comment, but it was not received at press time.)
Directed by Oscar-winning filmmaker Chloé Zhao, Eternals is a millennia-spanning tale that follows a group of immortal aliens living amongst humankind and tasked with secretly fighting demons known as Deviants. The film also boasts Marvel’s most diverse cast of superheroes yet, including its first deaf character (played by Lauren Ridloff), its first South Asian character (Kumail Nanjiani) and its first openly gay character (Bryan Tyree Henry).
Henry tech-savvy Eternal, Phastos, marks another first for the studio: He and his onscreen husband Ben (played by Dubai-born actor, Haaz Sleiman) share Marvel’s first same-sex kiss midway through the film. Sleiman described Ben and Phatos’s relationship as “life-saving” in a recent interview with Variety. “Can you imagine how many lives this is going to be saving — kids, young queer folk, who are being bullied, committing suicide, and not seeing themselves being represented?” the actor continued. “And now they get to see this — it’s above and beyond.”
The Hollywood Reporter’s sources suggest that the film’s inclusion of a same-sex couple is one of the elements that led to it being blocked from movie theaters in at least three Gulf countries, where homosexual conduct is still illegal. THR also reports that local censors had a list of edit requests that Disney declined to make. Meanwhile, Deadline reports that Kuwait and Qatar censors additionally objected to a cinematic depiction of gods, which is considered blasphemous.
According to Deadline, Eternals is still set to screen in the United Arab Emirates — Sleiman’s native country — as well as Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt. But audiences in those countries will reportedly see an altered version that removes scenes featuring both heterosexual and homosexual intimacy. Last year, the Disney/Pixar animated film Onward was banned in multiple Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia, for featuring the studio’s first LGBTQ character, voiced by Lena Waithe.
Eternals premieres Nov. 5 in theaters