Updated: December 22, 2021 9:29:58 am
Winds of change are blowing through the United Arab Emirates. After announcing the implementation of the four-and-a-half-day work week earlier this month, the UAE has said that it will end the censorship of films. Instead, a new age category of +21 will be introduced within its existing rating system, allowing the screening of “international” versions of films, which leave intact scenes depicting kissing, nudity, homosexuality.
This is just the latest development in what is being widely seen as a softening of the UAE’s conservatism. From liberalising its personal laws — such as allowing unmarried couples to co-habit — to making it easier for the holders of the new long-term “golden visa” to have 100 per cent ownership of their business in the country, the UAE is taking decisive steps to attract both individuals and investors. While the country has said that it wants to stay in step with the rest of the world, including on individual rights, the pragmatic need for its economy to diversify beyond oil is also a factor. A 10-year national strategy unveiled in November aims to increase the GDP contribution of the creative and cultural industries to 5 per cent.
The UAE’s announcement will give greater impetus to the liberalisation of entertainment that already seems underway in the region. Saudi Arabia, for example, held its first international film festival in Jeddah this year, four years after it removed its over-three-decade-old ban on cinema while at the Cairo Film Festival, a coming-out film Fiasco, won two awards (Egypt, where queer people are often the target of violence, also allowed the screening of The Eternals, which featured the first MCU gay superhero). At a time when attitudes elsewhere are hardening in favour of greater state control over creative content, the opening up of the UAE to the transformative power of cinema is enormously welcome.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on December 22, 2021 under the title ‘Lights, camera, UAE’.
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