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JOYLAND: A victim of Transphobia in Pakistan 

Movie Joyland, based on love story revolves around a middle class youth and a transgender starlet, was all set to release across Pakistan on 18 November, 2022. But, on 11 November an order was issued from the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, Pakistan which clearly stated that censor board gave a green signal to the film earlier but now they have revised their decision

The government of Pakistan has imposed a ban on the film Joyland backed by Khoosat Films, Pakistan’s submission to the Oscars.  The film was all set to release across Pakistan on 18 November 2022. But, on 11 November an order was issued from the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, Pakistan which clearly stated that the censor board gave a green signal to the film earlier but now they have revised their decision. Supposedly, the censor board has been receiving complaints that the film contains ‘highly objectionable content and repugnant material’; therefore, the board has imposed a ban on the nationwide release of Joyland.

The film is set in Lahore and revolves around the story of the youngest son of a middle-class patriarchal Rana family, who joins theatre and falls in love with a Transgender starlet. His love story elucidates the desires and secrets of the entire Rana family.

According to a notification of the Ministry, “Written complaints were received that the film contains highly objectionable content which do not conform with the social norms, ethical values and moral standards of our society and is clearly repugnant to the norms of ‘decency and morality as laid down in Section 9 of the Motion Picture Ordinance, 1979.”

Interestingly, this is not the first time or the first movie to get banned in Pakistan on the pretext of ‘objectionable content or repugnant material.’ As far as Sarmad Sultan Khoosat, of Khoosat Films is considered, his another movie ‘Zindagi Tamasha’ was banned in Pakistan for similar reasons in 2020.

The first movie to be banned in Pakistan was Jago Hua Savera(1950), a drama film directed by A. J. Kardar based on the struggles of a poor fishing village in former East Pakistan. Just days before the premiere, the Government of Pakistan halted the release. It was a joint production of East & West Pakistan.[1] So far 21 such movies have been banned including Among the Believers (2019);The Blood of Hussain (1980); Aurat Raj (1979); Javed Iqbal: The Untold Story of A Serial Killer (2019) etc.

It is worthy to note that, in May, 2022, Joyland made history when it became the first Pakistani feature film to enter the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. It has also won two awards: Un Certain Regard Jury Prize; Queer Palm (for best LGBT, queer or feminist-themed movie). The national census of Pakistan 2017, estimated the number of transgender citizens in the country to be around 10,000, but Human Rights groups have claimed the figure to be more than 300,000 out of 220 million people of the country.

However, once the film gathered international recognition, it was almost certain that Pakistan’s Oscars Selection Committee would pick it as the formal entry for Oscars 2023, which it did. The next step was its release in Pakistani cinemas. Two months later, on 17th  August, the Central Board of Film Censors (CBFC) issued the necessary censor certificate. From 18th  November the film was (supposed) to be screened in Pakistani cinemas.

Unfortunately, on 12th  November, Jamaat-e-Islami’s Senator Mushtaq Ahmed tweeted a letter initiated by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting that deemed the previously certified film ‘uncertified.’ Remarkably, this letter shared by Ahmed raises two significant questions: first of all, it cites complaints that were received following the ‘release of the film’ whereas the film is in fact scheduled to release in Pakistan on November 18. Who saw the film apart from the censor boards and raised the complaints has not been clarified. Secondly, after the 18th  amendment the CBFC’s jurisdiction has been limited to ICT (Islamabad Capital Territory), cantonment areas across the country and provinces that have not formed their own boards yet, i.e. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.

However, there is an online storm in Twitter against the ban. Many Twitter users expressed anger and questioned the government for halting the release of the film. One shared, “Why was the censor board’s approval of Joyland, August 17, 2022, reversed a week before release? Why were complaints by people who have not seen the film accepted? Is violence in films approved by the censor in line with our ‘moral standards?” One user spoke about the relatability of the film and wrote, “Joyland is a film about a family that lives in Gawalmandi, Lahore…Our Lahore. It is a film about human beings that exist around us in Pakistan…Our Pakistanis. It was filmed here – across real locations, with real people.”

In Pakistan, the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act of 2018 promises citizens their right to self-identify as male, female or a blend of both genders, and to have their identity registered on all official documents, together with passports, National Identification Cards, driving licenses and educational certificates. Nevertheless, the Act was passed by the Parliament in May 2018, and new debates on social media resurfaced in the month of September 2022, with critics opposing a specific clause that stipulates that “a transgender person shall have a right to be recognized as per his or her self-perceived gender identity.”

Clerics have condemned this clause, causing Senator Mushtaq from Jamaat-e-Islami, to file a petition in the Federal Shariat Court. This court is separate from civil courts and has the authority to examine whether certain laws comply with Islam.

Homosexuality in Pakistan is indeed an “open secret” in which it is deeply pervasive, yet the entire country deliberately turns a blind eye to its existence. The state and society of Pakistan perpetually remain in denial of recognizing the presence of its LGBTQ+ populace, not only has such denial upheld the criminalization of homosexuality but also continues to police LGBTQ+  identities within an obsolete framework.

Pakistan as a religious country perpetrates state-sponsored violence against various minorities and continues to torture the LGBT+ people at large. According to a range of LGBT+ NGOs and activists, society generally avoids transgender women, ‘eunuchs’, and intersex persons jointly referred to as hijras, who often live together in slum communities and subsist by begging and dancing at carnivals and weddings while others rely on prostitution. Property owners and local authorities often deprived them of the right to buy & rent properties. Violence and discrimination continued against LGBT+ people with impunity as police generally refused to take action.

 Moreover, those who join khawajasira culture are more vulnerable because usually they end up being involved in begging, wedding dancing, and sex work.

Undoubtedly, Pakistan as an extremist state is not only putting a substantial curb on the medium of cinema but also denying and strangulating the LGBT+ community within its society. As the country and its people are not open to liberal and secular concepts of the 21st century, aggression and oppression of the queers are adding a new approach to the story of perpetual cruelty as practised in Pakistan.

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