Marvel’s latest blockbuster Eternals has been banned in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the Chloe Zhao-directed film will be not released in the aforementioned territories due to the inclusion of Marvel’s first ever gay superhero Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry).
Eternals also features Marvel’s first big-screen queer couple, and in one scene, Phastos reportedly shares a “passionate kiss” with his husband Jack (Haaz Sleiman).
THR states that a number of “edits” were requested from cinema chains in the Gulf regions to Disney, who were not willing to comply.
Homosexuality is still criminalised in many Middle Eastern regions, and is even punishable by death in Saudi Arabia and Qatar. In 2020, a single line referencing a lesbian relationship in Pixar’s Onward resulted in the title being banned in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, as well as Kuwait and Oman.
News of Eternals’ ban follows review-bombers targeting the film in protest of its LGBTQ+ representation. One troll opined that Eternals is a way for Marvel to “tick all the Hollywood woke boxes,” before calling the director “sucky”.
In an interview with IndieWire, Zhao – who won two Oscars earlier this year for her work on Nomadland – explained how important it is for scenes featuring LGBTQ+ characters to stay in the movie’s final cut.
“I don’t know all the details but I do believe discussions were had and there’s a big desire from Marvel and myself – we talked about this – to not change the cut of the movie. Fingers crossed,” she said.
“To position that family in that specific situation and to have that moment feel authentic and real… The audience has to feel that to care. Otherwise, there’s no point in putting that on-screen because they don’t feel it.”
Speaking with Out, Sleiman – whose character shares a child with Phastos – said his casting was “very smart” as he will “humanise the hell” out of LGBTQ+ families.
He said: “I feel lucky, and I’m grateful. And… I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I feel like Marvel, they were very smart to cast me in it because I got to humanise the hell out of it. I got to humanise an LGBTQ+ family and show how beautiful they are.”
The highly-anticipated new film follows the titular Eternals – an immortal alien race created by the Celestials – who have shaped the fate of humanity and civilisation.
For more than 7,000 years they’ve quietly existed in the background, but following the events of Avengers: Endgame (2019), they reunite to protect humanity from their threatening counterparts, the Deviants.
The ensemble cast also includes Angelina Jolie, Richard Madden, Salma Hayek, Gemma Chan, Kit Harrington, Kumail Nanjiani, Barry Keoghan, Lauren Ridloff, and Ma Dong-seok.
Eternals hits cinemas 5 November. Watch the trailer below.