Censorship in general has a lot to do with insecurity. In fact, it has everything to do with insecurity. It’s baffling to me personally that governments who choose to fear art don’t realize that they’re doing anything more than stoking suspicions and resentment among their people. But it’s also true that governments who censor movies and books don’t represent their people—because they’re usually dictatorships.
The following countries took the blacklisting (cough, wussy) route. And that’s OK. It’s their country. In addition to revealing their fears for Western cinema, they also caused immeasurable curiosity which in turn caused more success for these films. So in a way, censorship helped. Political forces have been censoring dangerous art since the dawn of art itself, and these are the modern examples.
12. China: Brokeback Mountain
Ang Lee became the “glory of Chinese cinematic talent” after an Oscar for directing Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Five years later he released Brokeback Mountain, and the Chinese censorship board couldn’t handle the hotness. They banned it from screenings due to its homosexual content. Gayness is still considered taboo in the People’s Republic. However, Lee is still to this day hailed as the pride of Chinese filmmaking prowess. Seems even though the ban is still in effect, the country “just can’t quit him.”
11. Iran: 300
The epic 2007 film 300 caused Iranian government to feel a bit miffed at what they considered historical revisionism and an “American attempt for psychological warfare against Iran.” Iranian newspaper Ayende-No said the film “depicts Iranians as demons, without culture, feeling or humanity, attacking other nations and killing people.” Hm, sounds like every nation in 480 BC. So, taking issue with Hollywood’s portrayal of the Battle of Thermopylae, which was somewhat accurate considering Leonidas did assemble a rag-tag crew of Spartans that effectively blocked massive swaths of Xerxes’s army from invading Greece, saving the ancient empire in the process, Iran banned the film within its borders.
10. Trinidad & Tobago, Malaysia, and Thailand: Zack and Miri Make a P*rno
These respective governments feared the 2007 Kevin Smith flick would encourage copycats. They believed teenagers would get into amateur p*rn. As the plot went, Zack and Miri had fallen on hard times and couldn’t pay rent. So they got a camera and some actors and shot some scenes. A theater company out of Utah, too, had a similar view, as the owner of Megaplex Theaters Larry Miller blocked the movie from showings in the state. Cal Gunderson of the chain said, “We feel it’s very close to NC-17 with its graphic nudity and graphic sex.” Interesting to note that they had no problem releasing Knocked Up and Saw V the same year.
9. United Kingdom: The Human Centipede (Full Sequence)
In 2011, officials in the UK government spewed out their tea and crumpets after the release of The Human Centipede (Full Sequence). As did everyone. But that was the point—to utterly disturb. The British Board of Film Classification said it violated the Obscene Publications Act, posing “a real, as opposed to fanciful, risk that harm is likely to be caused by potential viewers.”
Tom Six, its proudly twisted director, replied that it’s “fictional. Not real. It’s all make-belief (sic). It is art.” For months the BBFC kept to their promise that it wouldn’t be allowed to be downloaded, released on DVD, or supplied anywhere, but eventually gave it an 18 certificate, after only 32 cuts totaling 2 minutes and 37 seconds of footage.
8. Kazakhstan: Borat
Borat tells the tale of a boorishly naive mustachioed journalist who travels America filming a documentary. In it, he craps in a bag, wrestles a fat man naked, and brags about having intercourse with his sister. Authorities didn’t exactly appreciate how Kazakhs were portrayed in the film. And though they threatened to sue Sacha Baron Cohen upon its release, the government gave him kudos years later in 2012 for boosting national tourism. As foreign minister Yerzhan Kazykhanov said, “I salute Borat for helping attract tourists to Kazakhstan.” Seems any press is good press.
7. Samoa: Milk
Sean Penn won Best Actor for his role as Harvey Milk in the film Milk. It is based on the life of the first openly gay elected official in America. But Samoa’s censorship board didn’t take a liking to its premise, suggesting that it is contradictory to the values of Samoa and its Christian religion. Principal censor Lei’ataua Niuptu said that the movie “is trying to promote the human rights of gays. Some of the scenes are very inappropriate in regard to some of the sex in the film itself.”
But some human rights activists in Samoa took issue with the ban. One Ken Moala said, “It’s really harmless, I don’t know how it would affect Samoan lifestyle. It is totally different and not applicable to here, it is pretty tame really. Some of the movies that have been here are violent and horrific. When it comes to documentaries like this, I think it is all about the human story as opposed to the slaughter that goes on in some of these movies.” The struggle continues.
6. North Korea: 2012
Granted, a lot of films don’t make it into North Korea unless they wax fantastic about its glorious dear leaders. However, Kim Jung-il took special issue with the John Cusack disaster movie. The year itself marked the centenary of the birth of Kim Il-Sung, the nation’s founder. Jung-il said that 2012 was supposed to be a lucky year, one in which North Korea would achieve superpower status. Anything contradictory to this superstitious belief—including Hollywood magic depicting earthquakes, tidal waves, and Yellowstone’s volcano bursting—would put bad juju on the whole plan. But as luck would have it, North Korea stayed North Korea and 2012 was just a movie.
5. United Arab Emirates: Sex and the City 2
I could get behind this one. Only kidding. Sex in the City 2 is set in Abu Dhabi, the capital of United Arab Emirates. But before filming, the crew sent the script to the UAE authorities who promptly denied it. So it was filmed in Morocco, where there is also sand and Arabians. The National Media Council said that it conflicted with the cultural values of the country. While one could understand the ban based on Kim Cattrall’s character alone, many scenes in the movie poke jabs at the Islamic dress code and mention other “unsavory” cultural no-no’s there. So they banned the hell out of it.
4. Indonesia, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, and Malaysia: Schindler’s List
Seven-time Oscar-winner Schindler’s List has achieved worldly success as the preeminent holocaust film. But Islamic nations across the world weren’t as thrilled by it. Malaysia, for example, said that the movie showed Jews as “stout-hearted” and “intelligent,” while depicting Germans as “brutal.” Other predominantly Muslim nations seconded that notion. Director Steven Spielberg was flabbergasted, and In 1994 he told the New York Times, “It’s just disgraceful. It shocks me because I thought the Islamic countries would feel this film could be an instrument of their own issues in what was happening in Bosnia.” Malaysian authorities said nope, “The story of the film reflects the privilege of virtues of a certain race only.”
A few of the countries softened up a bit and said they may consider lifting the ban if Spielberg cut a few scenes. But he was adamant about the importance of every bit in the black-in-white classic: “I won’t make one cut. I’m not interesting in getting into a contest with them. This film needs to be shown intact.” Guess they won’t get the pleasure of seeing the brilliant performances of Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes.
3. Myanmar: Rambo IV
Sylvester Stallone made a comeback in 2008 as the brutal monosyllabic vet hellbent on justice. The story involves John Rambo traveling to Burma to unseat and violently dispatch a military holding missionaries hostage. The government quickly banned the film, presumably because it portrays Burmese soldiers as sick and depraved psychos who deserve what’s coming. But the people in Myanmar related to the tale, and they didn’t sit quietly with such decisions by the authorities. One man in Rangoon who sells pirated DVDs told the Telegraph that he could face prison time if he distributed the movie: “Many customers keep asking about Rambo IV but I dare not to sell it. Police have warned me I could go to jail for up to seven years if I sell the latest Rambo film.”
2. United Kingdom: A Clockwork Orange
After the release of Stanley Kubrick’s dystopian masterpiece A Clockwork Orange, a woman was sexually assaulted by a Dutchman who sang “Singing in the Rain”—just as the protagonist Alex did. The British Parliament previously warned that such a thing might happen, and so they banned it. They believed that its ultra-violence set to a classical score might unsettle audiences. It’s also true that such glorification of delinquent sickness is the reason why the film remains freshly disturbing to this day. A Clockwork Orange was banned all the way up until Kubrick’s death in 1999.
1. Burma: The Simpson’s Movie
You ready for this? The Burmese government banned The Simpson’s Movie because it features the colors yellow and red. At face value it seems like a completely arbitrary rule, but once you get into the politics of the matter things begin to make a little more sense … sorta. In neighboring Thailand, which may or may not hold clout in Burma, the opposing political forces are known as the Yellow Shirts and the Red Shirts. Homages to anything remotely related to such parties are strictly verboten.