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West Side Story Was Just Banned In These Countries. Here's What We Know

It doesn't take an especially experienced film aficionado to tell you that Steven Spielberg is one of the most accomplished film directors of all time. Having literally defined the blockbuster with 1975's "Jaws" and entertained audiences all around the world with a wide variety of hits in the many decades since, Spielberg is certainly one of the most multi-faceted entertainers in the business. While it was somewhat surprising when Spielberg first announced in 2018 that he would direct a new adaptation of "West Side Story," the director has proven himself capable of tackling virtually any genre (via IMDb). 

Throughout his illustrious career, Spielberg has directed everything from war films like "Saving Private Ryan" to biopics like "Lincoln" and science fiction films like "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." Additionally, the famous director introduced audiences to one of the most popular film characters of all time in Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford). However, "West Side Story" will mark Spielberg's very first musical.

While it looks like Spielberg's take on "West Side Story" is finally about to reach its release date, it has definitely taken a while to get here. The film was originally scheduled for release on December 18, 2020, but was delayed nearly a full year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic (via Variety). 

Unfortunately, a handful of countries have recently announced their audiences won't be seeing the film anytime soon.

These countries refuse to air the film because of one character

According to The Hollywood Reporter, fans of "West Side Story" will be unable to watch the film on the big screen if they happen to live in any of the following countries: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates. While Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have outright refused to grant the film a release certificate, the other countries requested alterations to the film. However, Disney has refused to comply with these requests, according to the Hollywood Reporter. 

The Hollywood Reporter's article further states that while it is unknown for certain why these countries are essentially boycotting the film, "regional sources" suggest that the primary reason is the film's inclusion of a transgender character. The transgender character at the heart of the dispute is named Anybodys, portrayed in the Steven Spielberg film by Iris Menas (via IMDb). While prior adaptations of "West Side Story" have not included any explicitly transgender characters, Anybodys is not a new character and was previously portrayed by Susan Oakes in the 1961 film (via IMDb). 

Because homosexuality is illegal in many countries in this region of the world, such a ban on the film is not surprising. This November, many of the same countries refused to air "Eternals," as a result of an on-screen kiss between Phastos (Brian Tree Henry) and his husband, Ben (Haaz Sleiman).

"West Side Story" will be released in theaters in participating countries on December 10 (via IMDb).