Malala condemns Pakistan’s ‘Joyland’ ban

At one point last month, someone in London or Los Angeles could listen to Arooj Aftab’s music on their AirPods, keep Taymour Soomro’s debut novel “Other Names for Love” in their bag, and attend a screening of Saim’s film. Sadik”joyland”, where outside the theater they passed a movie poster with a painting by Salman Toor.

2022 turned out to be a banner year for Pakistani artists. Aftab presented the country’s first Grammy Award, winning for Best World Music Performance. Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy directed episodes of “Ms. Marvel,” the critically acclaimed Disney+ series featuring the first Muslim superhero in the Marvel universe. Novels like Soomro’s “Other Names for Love” and Mohsin Hamid’s “The Last White Man” won critical acclaim. Toor became a star in the art world with an exhibition at the Whitney Museum and paintings that sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Newcomer writer-director Sadiq’s “Joyland” was the first Pakistani film selected to screen at Cannes, where it won a prestigious jury prize. After standing ovations from film festival audiences around the world, Pakistan selected it as its official Oscar entry. On November 18, “Joyland” was scheduled to open in the country where it was made: a much-anticipated homecoming for the cast and crew, and a chance for Pakistanis to celebrate a film ranked among the best in world cinema.

But last week the government bowed to pressure from a small group of critics and rescinded the film’s approval by the censorship board, effectively banning its showing in all of Pakistan. Since most of the complainants haven’t seen the movie, it’s hard to understand. why they claim that “Joyland” is “disgusting” and inappropriate for Pakistani audiencesbut many comments on social media focus on a character named Biba, an ambitious dancer and trans woman, played by 24-year-old actress from Lahori, Alina Khan.

“Joyland” is not activism masquerading as art; it does not advocate a particular point of view or issue a call to action. The film treats each character with compassion, from the elderly grandfather imposing his will on his family to the young wife who wants more than the men around her are willing to give. It’s a movie about the ways the patriarchy hurts everyone: men, women, and children. It is a film about the healing powers of female friendship and solidarity. It is a film about the costs of ignoring our own dreams in order to adapt to the society around us.

“Joyland” is also a love letter to Pakistan, to its culture, food, fashion and, above all, its people. How tragic that a film created by and for Pakistanis is now banned from our screens due to claims that it does not “represent our way of life” or “portrays a negative image of our country”. It is quite the opposite: the film reflects the reality of millions of ordinary Pakistanis, people who yearn for freedom and fulfilment, people who create moments of joy every day for their loved ones.

Too often in my country, we expect art to serve as public relations. Tired of seeing negative portrayals of the rest of the world, we want stories that present us as unequivocal heroes. The most popular movies feature male protagonists defeating their mortal enemies and female characters that exist only in the context of their romantic relationships. A numbness occurs when we collectively decide that we would rather believe the fantasy than look in the mirror. When a film like Sadiq’s brings out working-class or trans characters, and women struggling to assert themselves against rigid and very real social norms, we walk away.

In doing so, we reject the spectacular talent of Pakistani artists that a film like “Joyland” represents. Many of our best and brightest, from Kumail Nanjiani to Kamila Shamsie to Shahzia Sikander, have been more successful in Europe or the US. What message are we sending to the next generation who, like Sadiq, want to make movies in Karachi or in swat valley , when we ban the art of our own people?

last month in variety Power of Women Awards in Los Angeles, I told the audience that Muslims make up 25% of the world’s population, but only 1% of the characters in popular TV series. When we see Muslims on screen, they are often the perpetrators or victims of terrorism. That is the problem that Hollywood must solve, and I, along with other Pakistani and Muslim creators, I hope to be part of the solution. But audiences must also be open to the truth when our filmmakers reveal it. We should be the first, the loudest, and the most jubilant supporters of the artists who tell our stories. “Joyland” offers Pakistan such an opportunity, if we are only willing to seize it.

Malala Yousafzai he is executive producer of “Joyland”, president of Extracurricular Productions and the youngest Nobel laureate.

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