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Explained: The UAE’s decision to stop censoring films shown in cinemas

The United Arab Emirates has announced that it will end censorship of films that are released in cinemas. What exactly changes for movie goers, and why is this step significant?

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: December 21, 2021 8:31:31 am
But it is not clear if films such as these will be re-released under the new ratings system.

On Sunday (December 19), the United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced that it will end censorship of films that are released in cinemas, a decision that is being interpreted as the Gulf country’s effort to become competitive in the region and importantly, appear broad-minded and liberal to foreigners.

According to IGN Middle East, recently, the Adam Driver and Lady Gaga starrer ‘House of Gucci’ received numerous cuts due to its sexual content, while the release of Marvel Studios’s ‘Eternals’ was delayed for similar reasons. But it is not clear if films such as these will be re-released under the new ratings system.

The move to stop censoring is important for the country as it tries to diversify its economy by reducing dependence on oil, and attracting foreign investment.

Recently, it has also carried out some social or “secular-leaning reforms” which include decriminalising the consumption of alcohol and allowing out-of-marriage cohabitation.

Earlier this month, the country announced that government offices will be adapting to a four-and-a-half workday week, which will treat Saturdays and Sundays as weekends from 2022, an attempt to align with typical western work weeks.

So, what changes for movie goers in the UAE?

The country’s Media Regulator Office, which comes under the Ministry of Culture and Youth, announced on Twitter that it was introducing a 21+ age category within its motion picture content rating system.

As per this classification, the movies that will be screened in cinemas will be the international versions, which means that certain scenes that would, under the previous system, be thought of us objectionable, will not be edited out.

An article in The Texas Orator, a peer-reviewed political publication that is part of the Associated Collegiate Press, the biggest national membership organisation for college student media in the United States, referred to the 2018 book, ‘Shakespeare on the Arabian Peninsula’, which it said analyses the UAE’s use of censorship as a means to promote the conservative values of its ruling elite.

The country’s censorship law, therefore, “blocks websites, cuts kissing and sex scenes from films and certain satellite TV channels, and blurs the names of dishes that contain non-halal foods, like pork and bacon, on episodes of Masterchef”, the Orator report said. This is likely to change in the new regulatory regime.

What else has changed in terms of the UAE’s relationship with the world?

A federation of seven emirates, the UAE recently celebrated 50 years of its establishment on December 2. Analysis by the Middle East Institute (MEI) notes that UAE represents an “exemplary” case of peaceful coexistence of different identities, considering that more than 80 per cent of its resident population is made up of individuals from different cultural and religious beliefs.

A very large number of people of Indian origin live and work in the UAE, and the two countries have close trade and diplomatic ties. Last year, the UAE normalised relations with Israel, becoming the third Arab nation to do so.

In 2019, the UAE implemented a system for long-term residence visas called the “golden visa” to attract foreign residents. Holders of the golden visa can live, work, and study in the UAE without requiring a sponsor, and also have 100 per cent ownership of their business.

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