Eternals Banned In Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, And Qatar As Disney Refuses To Cut Gay Elements

Marvel Studios' "Eternals" will not play in theaters in the Middle Eastern countries of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, or Qatar. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the film was supposed to debut in theaters in those countries on November 11, but when local censors presented Disney with a series of desired edits, the studio reportedly refused to comply.

Since homosexuality is still illegal in many countries in the Middle East, the requested edits likely centered on Marvel's first openly gay superhero, Phastos, who is played by Brian Tyree Henry. (One regional cinema chain told THR that "Eternals" had been "banned," but did not confirm the reasoning behind the ban.) In the movie, Phastos shares a kiss with his husband Ben (Haaz Sleiman), there are several references to their marriage, and we see them in domestic life raising their son. That subplot is arguably one of the movie's biggest emotional cruxes of the film, so removing it would severely hurt the overall storytelling.

The Mouse House Holds Firm

Disney's stance on this issue shows that the studio has supported director Chloé Zhao, who was hopeful that the relationship would not be censored when she spoke to Indiewire last month. "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," she said. "Fingers crossed."

For Disney, a studio which has previously earned its fair share of bad press for kowtowing to international censoring requests in order to maximize global profits, this is a somewhat surprising (and welcome) instance of the studio showing some backbone and putting creative integrity over transparent greed. 

For decades, Disney has positioned itself as Hollywood's most family-friendly major studio – which traditionally has meant avoiding same-sex relationships on screen altogether. In recent years, the company has been taking the tiniest steps beyond that archaic restriction, featuring an "exclusively gay moment" in "Beauty and the Beast" and a reference to a gay relationship in "Avengers: Endgame."

But the studio removed a same-sex kiss between characters in "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" to appease some international censors. And in an alternate universe, Brian Tyree Henry's Phastos wouldn't have been the first LGBTQ superhero in the MCU: Tessa Thompson's Valkyrie character from "Thor: Ragnarok" was going to be bisexual, but the final cut of the movie ended up removing a scene which confirmed her sexuality.

Last year, Disney/Pixar's "Onward" was banned in the countries of Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia because of a single line that alluded to a lesbian relationship. Disney held firm on that movie and refused to censor it, so hopefully this is proof that the studio is entering a new era in which it supports its filmmakers' visions and won't compromise its movies to achieve the widest possible appeal.

"Eternals" arrives in U.S. theaters on November 5, 2021.