Every culture has its own tastes, so naturally, a film’s reception (arguably the most subjective of art form) is going to be impacted by whatever country it’s being shown in. Normally, this means that a work may simply be perceived as “good” or not, depending on how it jives with societal norms. A good example of this is the comedy genre, which frequently sees many jokes be lost in translation or go over some moviegoers’ heads entirely.
And all that is relatively harmless in the grand scheme of things. Then there are the cases where a nation deems a movie so unfit for its people that they ban it from ever being shown. Obviously, different people are going to have different reactions to what is tangibly the same product, but is taking things to that drastic extreme the most reasonable thing to do? You be the judge, as we list Movies That Were Banned For Crazy Reasons.
The Simpsons Movie
The Simpsons’ brand of irreverent humor has made them a mainstay of pop culture for decades, but nobody expected Homer and his family to be at the center of a great political debate. But that’s exactly what happened when the Simpsons movie came out in 2007. The country Burma barred it from being shown in its theaters, and the greatest crime the film was guilty of was that the main characters’ skin color was yellow.
At the time when The Simpsons Movie was being released, Burma was ruled by Aung San Suu Kyi. The biggest perceived threat against his leadership was the National League of Democracy, whose official colors were red and yellow. We understand that people are passionate about their political beliefs, but this really is head scratching. It’s not like the film’s characters or its plot was making grand statements in favor of Burmese democracy, that was just simply how they looked. Subliminal propaganda can be a part of film, but this is an instance where yellow was just all fun and games.
British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen was clearly going for shock value when he created the culturally insensitive and misogynistic Middle Eastern reporter Borat. And he was extremely successful in his efforts. Comedy, more than any other type of film genre, is subjective to one’s taste, and though the film was a hit in America, the humor did not translate well overseas. Claiming that certain scenes could “offend viewers’ religious or national sensibilities,” Russia banned the film from being shown in their theaters. And they were far from the only country to take issue with Cohen’s take on racial and ethnic humor.
It shouldn’t really come as a surprise (given the film’s depiction of these people) that all Arab nations except Lebanon barred it from being screened. Once the movie came out, Germany also attempted to ban the project, citing concerns over the defamation of the Gypsy people. It can be argued that we live in a far more sensitive, politically-correct time, so the problems are understandable to an extent. However, Borat is classified as a mockumentary, so perhaps the point was to show how biting satire was dying and the unwilling participants in the film’s production just took the bait.
More prominent for the heated controversy it caused than its actual narrative, there’s no denying The Interview is one of the weirdest cases in Hollywood history. With a premise of two American journalists tasked by the CIA to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, the film was sure to turn some heads, but things got out of hand very, very quickly. Obviously, North Korea banned the film from being shown, and anyone in the country caught watching a bootleg copy was subject to death by firing squad or sentenced to years in a prison camp. But that only scratches the surface of the insanity.
For a brief time, The Interview was even banned in the United States. Claiming to be behind the infamous Sony hack of 2014, the so-called “Guardians of Peace” posted a message that invoked the terror of September 11 to describe what would happen to movie theaters opting to show the film on its regularly scheduled Christmas Day release. Shortly after, some of America’s largest theater chains pulled it, with Sony resorting to digital distribution so their investment wasn’t a total loss. In the end, The Interview ended up being screened in a limited number of theaters (and luckily no incidents were reported), but it was still a bizarre footnote for what was a mainly mediocre comedy.
As we said at the top, every country is going to see films in a different way. What’s a great work of art to one moviegoer could be a dull drag for someone else. Since movies are extremely subjective, there’s no way to make one that’s going to be perfectly acceptable for all walks of life. And sometimes that means entire countries aren’t going to see what you’ve created, even if you shot every scene with no ill intent towards others.