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Arab moviegoers wait to see 'Barbie' as UAE, Saudi screenings loom

The summer box office hit is maintaining its delayed premier date of Aug. 31 in the UAE, Al-Monitor confirmed with Vox Cinemas.
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP via Getty Images

DUBAI — While Moroccan and Tunisian theaters screened the highly anticipated "Barbie" in July along with the rest of the world, movie fans in several Middle Eastern countries have had to wait.

The United Arab Emirates delayed the premier date of July 20 to Aug. 31 without specifying a reason, sparking fears that the movie would eventually be banned in the country. On Thursday evening, local news outlets reported that "Barbie" was approved for screening in licensed cinemas across the country.

"The UAE Media Council has granted the Barbie movie approval to be screened in the UAE’s licensed cinemas after completing the necessary procedures in line with the standards of media content and the UAE age classification," wrote the government authority on Thursday according to local outlets. It did not clarify what aspects of the movie needed approval or if any changes would be made.

The summer box office hit is set to premier Aug. 31 in the UAE, Al-Monitor confirmed with Vox Cinemas, a subsidiary of retail conglomerate Majid Al Futtaim. Roxy Cinemas announced on its website that its theaters will do the same. Both companies have not permitted customers to buy or reserve tickets yet. It is still unclear whether other countries with similar delays in Jordan and Oman, will approve the film for screening. Egypt has greenlit the screening.

Vox Cinemas also confirmed on its website that Barbie is expected play in Saudi theaters on Aug. 31. 

“Barbie” is ranked as the top movie of the year based on opening weekend sales in late July, reported Reuters, which reported Thursday that globally, it has brought in $800 million so far.

Reviews of the movie say it has no blatant LGBTQ themes or characters, which prevented movies including Pixar’s “Lightyear” from being screened in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt along with other regional countries in June due to a same-sex kissing scene.

Asked by British lifestyle magazine Attitude in mid-July and ahead of the movie’s release, "Barbie" star and producer Margot Robbie answered a question about whether the movie would have gay or lesbian characters. “They are all dolls. So they don’t actually have sexual orientations,” she said.

Also this summer, UAE theaters did not screen “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” in June, when it was supposed to hit the Emirates, though Vox Cinemas’ website advertised its international trailer. Although no reason was given by Vox Cinemas, according to Reuters, which reported the decision was made "amid debate online and among regional movie fans about the animated film's treatment of transgender themes." Saudi Arabia also banned the film, stating that it will not approve any film that “contradicts content controls” in an X, formerly known as Twitter, post.

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