Disney’s new movie “Lightyear,” an offshoot of the “Toy Story” franchise, faces bans or restrictions in parts of Southeast Asia and the Middle East over a scene that features a kiss between two women. The animated film opens around the world this week.
The United Arab Emirates has banned “Lightyear” from public screenings, and Malaysia has asked Disney to cut several scenes from the film before it can be shown in local cinemas, according to officials in the Muslim-majority countries.
In Indonesia, the nation with the world’s largest Muslim population, the chairman of the Film Censorship Board told The New York Times on Wednesday that the kissing scene could potentially violate a law that prohibits movies that show “deviant sexual behavior.”
“The Film Censorship Board doesn’t want to be drawn into the vortex of debate over pro LGBT versus anti-LGBT,” said the chairman, Rommy Fibri. “But that kissing scene is sensitive.”
Disney did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
The international backlash against “Lightyear” is a fresh public relations headache for Disney, whose growing willingness to publicly defend LGBTQ people has made it a somewhat unlikely cultural lightning rod in the United States.
Disney has described “Lightyear,” which was created by Pixar Animation Studios and directed by Angus MacLane, as the “definitive origin story” of the character Buzz Lightyear, a space ranger who starred in the 1995 film “Toy Story” and several sequels.
“Lightyear” focuses on the friendship between Buzz (voiced by Chris Evans) and another space ranger, Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba). Alisha marries a woman, and in one scene she greets her wife her with a kiss.
Disney’s chief executive, Bob Chapek, came under intense pressure earlier this year from many of the company’s employees to take a forceful stand against anti-LGBTQ legislation that was moving through the legislature in Florida, which is home to the Disney World resort.
Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida signed the bill into law in late March, and Disney publicly condemned it. The Florida House later voted to revoke Disney World’s special tax designation, a privilege that the theme park near Orlando had held for more than a half century.
The international backlash to “Lightyear” has generated far less public attention in the United States than Disney’s clash with Mr. DeSantis. But it’s a reminder for the company that cultural clashes over children’s content do not end at the US border.
In the United Arab Emirates, the government’s Media Regulatory Office said on Twitter this week that “Lightyear” was not licensed for screenings in domestic cinemas because it had violated the country’s “media content standards.” The agency did not elaborate or respond to a request for comment.
In Malaysia, “Lightyear” can be screened in its current form on Netflix, but the Film Censorship Board has asked Disney to change several scenes, including a “romantic” one, before it can be shown in cinemas, said a spokesman for the Ministry of Home Affairs.
In Indonesia, Mr. Rommy of the Film Censorship Board said officials there had flagged the kissing scene to Disney and were waiting for the company to send the completed film, with subtitles, for censorship review. “We aren’t saying that we reject the movie,” he said.
A movie with a homosexual kissing scene would likely not pass a censorship review in Indonesia because of a 2019 law that prohibits movies with “vulgar sexual activity” or sexual content that is “deviant” or “unreasonable,” Mr. Rommy added.
Openly gay, lesbian and transgender people face persecution across the Islamic world. In Malaysia, legislation targeting them is rooted in religious courts and British colonial-era prohibitions for Muslims and non-Muslims. In Indonesia, where nearly nine in 10 of the country’s 270 million people are Muslim, some politicians have tried to associate LGBTQ people with immorality, disease and the subversion of Indonesian culture.
Italia Film International, a company that distributes Disney films in the Middle East and has promoted “Lightyear” on its website, did not respond to requests for comment.
It was unclear as of Wednesday how the movie would fare in other countries around the Middle East and Asia. The film censorship authorities in Saudi Arabia and China, a major market for Hollywood studios, did not respond to requests for comment.
In Singapore, the Infocomm Media Development Authority said in a statement this week that viewers should be 16 or older to view “Lightyear.” It described the film as the “first commercial children’s animation to feature overt homosexual depictions,” and said that Disney had declined its suggestion of releasing two versions of the film, including an edited one for younger viewers.
“While it is an excellent animated film set in the US context, Singapore is a diverse society where we have multiple sensibilities and viewpoints,” Cheryl Ng, who chairs the agency’s film consultation panel, said in the statement.
Muktita Suhartono and Liani MK contributed reporting. Li You contributed research.