Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness Banned In Saudi Arabia Due To LGBTQ Character

Marvel Studios' "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" will not be released in Saudi Arabia. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the country has banned the film due to its inclusion of America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), a queer superhero who can travel between realities in the Marvel Comics universe. The Marvel Cinematic Universe movie portrays the character as being gay, just like in the comic books.

Directed by Sam Raimi, "Multiverse of Madness" is the latest Disney-backed tentpole to find itself banned in Saudi Arabia for its LGBTQ+ subject matter. Chloé Zhao's own MCU film, "Eternals," was also banned from screening there in November 2021 due to its inclusion of the queer superhero Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry), and a scene where he and his husband kiss on-screen. Steven Spielberg's "West Side Story," which the Mouse House released through 20th Century Studios, was similarly banned in Saudi Arabia (among other places) a month later because of the character Anybodys, a transgender would-be member of the Jets street gang played by non-binary actor Iris Menas.

Don't start applauding Disney just yet

"Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" finds the wizard Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) traversing the multiverse to battle an as-yet-undisclosed foe after messing with the very fabric of reality in "Spider-Man: No Way Home." America Chavez is expected to play a key role in the film, what with her super-powers making her exceptionally useful to Strange's latest mission. As such, given her likely-substantial screen time, Disney was unwilling to make the edits Saudi Arabia's censors requested in order to secure its theatrical release in the country.

In the past, Disney has managed to work around the censors in queer-phobic markets by only including easy-to-cut, blink-and-you'll-miss-it LGBTQ+ representation in its movies. Recent (and more infamous) examples include the brief on-screen kiss between a pair of Resistance fighters near the end of "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" and a scene in Pixar's "Onward" where Specter, a cyclops police officer voiced by queer multi-hyphenate Lena Waithe, mentions her girlfriend. Warner Bros. pulled a similar trick recently with "Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore," a film that only needed to cut six seconds to remove the explicit references to the queer romance between Jude Law's young Dumbledore and Mads Mikkelsen's Grindelwald.

Another factor to consider: Disney only just came under fire for financing the politicians behind Florida's notorious HB 1557 or "Don't Say Gay" bill, a piece of legislation that forbids elementary school teachers from discussing sexuality and gender in their classrooms. Hoping to improve its image in the eye of the public, this led directly to the Mouse House restoring a previously-cut scene in which a queer couple kisses on-screen from the upcoming Pixar animated film "Lightyear." Combined with the size of America Chavez's role, this no doubt contributed to the studio's decision to refrain from censoring "Multiverse of Madness" for Saudi Arabia.

"Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" opens in theaters in the U.S. and other select markets on May 6, 2022.