west side story

‘West Side Story’ producer speaks out on the movie’s Middle East ban

West Side Story producer Kevin McCollum has spoken out on the musical facing a ban in several Middle Eastern countries.

A critically acclaimed Steven Spielberg musical that remakes an all-time classic with equally spectacular results hardly sounds like the sort of movie that would generate any controversy or bans, but West Side Story has nonetheless been outlawed in several Middle Eastern regions.

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It was revealed a few days back that Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Kuwait won’t be approving the film for release after requesting that edits be made to certain scenes, which the studio wouldn’t agree to.

Sadly, the furor pertains to the character of Anbodys, a transgender role played by nonbinary performer Iris Menas. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Kevin McCollum addressed the situation, voicing his disappointment while comparing the scenario to the time of Shakespeare.

“I think we have to remember that during Shakespeare’s time, at the height, the Puritans came in and tore all of the theaters down. You couldn’t go to the theater, and yet Shakespeare survived. So this being a film that exists in the world, it might try to be stopped in certain places, but it will be found. I believe that love will win, and this is a story about love, made with love, and what happens when you try to keep people from loving freely.

I think we’ve done our jobs as artists to make this film, and the world will discover it even if certain cultures decide they don’t want it in their borders. This film will overcome any border because it will be seen. It came out of a love affair of honoring the theater and trying to capture a film that reflects today with the same ideas of how difficult it is to love when you are taught to hate. That’s why, hopefully, this film has butterfly wings of changing people’s belief systems. We’re all in this together on this planet, and love is what leads, so that’s why we sing.”

west side story

West Side Story is still tracking to top both the domestic and global box office this weekend, while the awards season buzz only continues to grow stronger, so it’s doubtful that anybody involved in the production will be losing much sleep over a ban they probably knew was coming.

Spielberg has always wanted to tackle the musical genre, and only a filmmaker of his reputation would be brave or bold enough to pinpoint West Side Story as the way to do it, when the 1961 version landed eleven Academy Award wins and gained all-timer status.

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Scott Campbell
News, reviews, interviews. To paraphrase Keanu Reeves; Words. Lots of words.