I’m a very nostalgic person. I remember the good old days when the internet was all about dots and beeps, when a gourmet burger could be found in a Happy Meal and when newspapers came with columns inked out by a black marker. Censorship isn’t a foreign concept to the Gulf region. Be it television, printed media or, more recently, the internet, censorship is a given. I sometimes wondered about the rooms of employees who’d be sitting in a room reading over the foreign papers with their thick, fat marker pens ready and eager to put market to paper on a large section of the paper.
Rarely do we hear from those people behind the censorship. However, the past couple of days have thrown a light on the world of censorship in the region. The latest Martin Scorsese film, The Wolf of Wall Street, is a tale of financial excesses with an over-excessive use of expletives, sex, drugs and other naughty things. It’s not surprising that such a film may cause flutters, especially in a conservative part of the world. While most of the country’s cinema-goers would have expected cuts here and there, the film ended up losing 45 minutes from its three-hour running time.
Local media reported on the incident, including a wonderful piece by Rory Jones, the UAE-based correspondent for the Wall Street Journal. As the piece is so fun I’m going to quote directly from Mr Jones.
Whole scenes were taken out of the Martin Scorsese-directed movie, including a particularly raucous trip to Las Vegas that included a plane full of prostitutes. The F-word has also been removed where possible, creating an almost constant jerking of the screen as one frame has been spliced into another.
Somewhat understandably, film-goers in the U.A.E. have taken to social media to vent their anger over the cuts, warning others not to see the film as most cinemas are not making viewers aware of the level of censorship.
As Mr Jones and others such as Gulf News’ tabloid! have pointed out, cinema releases are supposed to be censored by the National Media Council. In this case, the NMC has pointed the finger at the film’s distributor, Gulf Film. Why the distributor would want to annoy cinema-goers to the point that they tell others not to see the film and demand refunds from the cinema firms is beyond me. Gulf Film haven’t commented. One official from the NMC did speak however and here’s what he told tabloid!:
Juma Obaid Al Leem, director of the Media Content Tracking Department at the NMC told tabloid! the cuts were made even before it came under their review.
“We didn’t touch the film. The distributor already made the cut [when it came to us]. When we asked the distributors, they said they cut all those scenes and words, because they want to distribute the film in GCC,” he said.
Al Leem added that, following complaints from moviegoers, the NMC has instructed distributors to leave the editing to them.
“[We have told them] next time, don’t touch the film. We will make the cuts. We will decide. Maybe some scenes will be accepted. Don’t make any cut outside till they bring the full film and we will decide about the film,” he said. “We told them very clearly.”
Ironically, the film has been released in its entirety in Lebanon. It seems that nothing can offend the Lebanese cinema-goer, not even the Wolf of Wall Street. As for the UAE, we’ll have to put up with only two-thirds of a film. A wolf in sheep’s clothing anyone?