The “glory” days of the British censor – when grey-faced men would take a pair of scissors to every 1980s horror flick, from Maniac to The Evil Dead, while the tabloids screamed “video nasty” in the background – are thankfully gone. These days it takes something truly horrific – a Human Centipede 2 or a Hate Crime – to ruffle the feathers of the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC). Not to worry, for the grand tradition of banning movies remains firmly extant in other corners of the world. This week Lebanon refused to grant the comic book-action flick Wonder Woman a theatrical release on the grounds that its star is from Israel, at a time when the two countries are at war. While the merits of the ban have been hotly debated online, what is clear is that it’s not the only film to fall foul of the censors in recent years. Here are some of the more unlikely of those film bans:
The Uzbek thriller banned for not starring Morgan Freeman
If you’ve been to the cinema much over the past decade or so, you might be under the impression that Morgan Freeman is in every film. If a Hollywood producer is looking for a senior alpha male, primed to deliver lines of grandiloquent yet pithy wisdom at just the right moment, Freeman is most definitely their man. But just because it seems as if the Shawshank Redemption star is ubiquitous on the big screen, that doesn’t mean it’s OK to pretend he’s in your film when he’s not – as the Uzbekistan production studio Timur Film discovered in February. Posters for the action thriller Daydi (Rogue) featured a hooded Freeman between two local actors. Unfortunately, this was the Hollywood star’s one and only contribution to the movie, as he does not appear in a single frame of the film. Daydi was duly banned by Uzbekistan’s film licensing body, which we like to imagine being staffed almost entirely by outraged fans of Driving Miss Daisy.
When Borat was banned for upsetting Kazakhstan
Sacha Baron Cohen’s 2006 comedy depicts its dubious hero’s homeland as a place where racists and criminals are on every run-down street corner, but (in Borat’s own words) the “prostitutes are the cleanest in the region”. Not surprisingly, authorities in Kazakhstan did not take too kindly to its rendering, and prohibited the movie from release in cinemas. Borat was also banned by Russia and every Arab country except Lebanon, with a censor at Dubai’s ministry of information labelling the comedy “vile, gross and extremely ridiculous”, adding that if all the offensive scenes were cut out, only 30 minutes would remain. Attitudes towards the movie in Kazakhstan do appear to have shifted, however: Borat was a huge hit when released on DVD in 2007, and in 2012 the nation’s foreign minister, Yerzhan Kazykhanov, thanked the film’s makers for helping to increase tourism to the country. “With the release of this film, the number of visas issued by Kazakhstan grew tenfold,” he said.
Sex and the City 2 banned in the UAE for showing liberated women
There are many honest cinemagoers who wish Sex and the City 2 had been outlawed worldwide. But the decision by United Arab Emirates censors to ban the critically reviled comedy sequel, in which Carrie Bradshaw and her New York gal pals head to Abu Dhabi on holiday, still makes uncomfortable reading. Officials were unhappy at scenes referencing homosexuality and highly displeased by a sequence in which one of the main characters is shown kissing in public, according to local reports. The most galling scene, however, appears to have been one in which the four ladies are rescued by Muslim women – who take off their burqas to reveal stylish western clothes underneath.
Ghostbusters banned in China for promoting superstition
No one can say Sony didn’t do its best to secure a Chinese release for the all-female remake of the classic 80s comedy last year. Executives even proposed renaming the movie Super Power Dare-to-Die Team in order to try and avoid upsetting local censors. But it would be hard to come away from watching Ghostbusters without being at least partly aware that the movie is about … well, ghosts. And ghosts are a taboo subject in the world’s most populous nation, due to communist views on the supernatural: official Chinese censorship guidance prohibit films that “promote cults or superstition”. A source told the Hollywood Reporter in July last year that Paul Feig’s film would not be getting a release, but refused to confirm this was due to the movie’s spooky subject matter.
That time the Philippines banned every Claire Danes movie
Woe betide the Hollywood star who slags off shooting conditions in a foreign country during a routine magazine interview, then discovers that, thanks to the internet, it isn’t just Americans who can access Vogue’s website. This is what happened to the Homeland star, who described the Philippines capital, Manila, as “a ghastly and weird city” during the promotion for her 1999 drug mule drama Brokedown Palace, then compounded the issue by telling Premiere the metropolis “Smelled of cockroaches, with rats all over, [had] no sewerage system,” and was populated by people with “no arms, no legs, no eyes”. Then-president Joseph Estrada, himself a former movie star, called for Danes to be banned from the country, and Manila’s city council banned every film starring the Romeo + Juliet actor from screening in cinemas there. Danes later issued an apology, saying that “because of the subject matter of our film Brokedown Palace, the cast was exposed to the darker and more impoverished places of Manila”. But local politicians were unimpressed and refused to lift the ban – which as far as we can tell, remains in place.
When North Korea banned 2012 for failing to stick to the script
Roland Emmerich’s apocalyptic 2009 disaster flick features a global geological catastrophe that almost wipes out the human race. This did not go down well with the leadership of the rogue nation, for whom the year 2012 has significance, not for being the date on which the Mayans predicted the end of the world, but for supposedly marking the beginning of North Korea’s rise to the status of global superpower. This prediction was based on 2012 being the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-Sung, founder of the nation, and North Koreans who illegally purchased DVDs from China were punished with up to five years in prison for watching a movie that dared to suggest history might turn out differently. The irony is that 2012, with its depiction of American cities such as Los Angeles sinking into the Pacific, would probably have proven quite cheery viewing for the North Korean high command.