Lebanon to ban Wonder Woman over Israeli lead actress

Beirut | ByAP
May 30, 2017 10:15 PM IST

Lebanon is seeking to ban Wonder Woman because the movie’s main character is played by an Israeli actress.

Lebanon is seeking to ban the new Wonder Woman movie because its lead actress, Gal Gadot, is an Israeli - a reflection of how the decades-old animosity between the two neighbours is infused in the cultural scene.

A Lebanese woman waves for a taxi as she stands in front of a digital billboard promoting the Wonder Woman movie in Beirut, Lebanon, on May 30, 2017.(AP)
A Lebanese woman waves for a taxi as she stands in front of a digital billboard promoting the Wonder Woman movie in Beirut, Lebanon, on May 30, 2017.(AP)

A security official said a formal request for a ban has not yet been received.

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A ban would require a recommendation from a six-member committee from the ministry of economy, a process that has not yet began, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to talk to reporters.

A premiere of Wonder Woman is scheduled for Wednesday in at least one cinema in Beirut. Posters of the movie and digital billboards have sprouted up around the Lebanese capital.

Lebanon is officially at war with Israel and has a decades-old law that boycotts Israeli products and bars Lebanese citizens from travelling or having contacts with Israelis. The two countries have been through a number of wars, including a particularly devastating one in 2006 that battered Lebanon’s infrastructure and left hundreds dead.

A group called Campaign to Boycott Supporters of Israel-Lebanon has pressed an effort against the movie. On its Facebook page, the campaign said Gadot was a soldier in the Israeli army and has expressed support for Israel’s military policies against the Gaza Strip, a coastal Palestinian territory run by the militant group Hamas.

“The state took the right decision,” Samah Idriss, a member of the boycott campaign told The Associated Press. “We now await the implementation...Even if it is one hour before the show, they should ban it anyway.”

Tensions have been rising between Israel and Hezbollah, with Israelis reportedly bombing several Hezbollah targets in Syria in recent months. Israel has signalled that the targets were smuggling sophisticated weapons to Lebanon. Hezbollah officials said recently they are not seeking war but are ready for it.

On her Facebook page, Gadot had praised Israel’s military during the 2014 Gaza-Israel war, sending prayers to soldiers “who are risking their lives protecting my country against the horrific acts conducted by Hamas”.

Officials at Lebanon’s economy ministry did not return calls seeking comment. The security official said banning a movie would ultimately come from the country’s interior minister following a recommendation from the six-member committee.

Warner Bros, which has released the film, declined comment.

A man walks past a poster promoting the movie Wonder Woman at a cinema in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, on May 30, 2017. (AP)
A man walks past a poster promoting the movie Wonder Woman at a cinema in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, on May 30, 2017. (AP)

Even though Lebanon enjoys a greater margin of freedom of expression than other countries in the region, prior censorship remains in place, particularly with content relating to Israel, religion and homosexuality.

Reflecting the tightening of censorship, the Egyptian movie Mawlana, about a celebrity Muslim cleric, and a Lebanese movie, Beach House, about friends discussing their identities, were banned in Lebanon earlier this year.

Mawlana was later shown after cuts were made, said one cinema manager, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing controversy. The two movies were approved in Egypt.

There has been a precedent for the Arab League to call for banning Israel-linked films. In 2013, Arab nations acted on calls by the Arab League to ban the terrorism drama, The Attack, that was shot in Israel, even though it was made by Lebanese-born filmmaker Ziad Doueiri.

In a high profile case in 2009, Gad Elmaleh, a French comedian of Moroccan-Jewish descent, cancelled his participation in one of Lebanon’s biggest festivals because of concerns for his safety after Hezbollah’s TV station alleged he served in the Israeli army.

In 2015, Miss Lebanon, Saly Greige, was in hot water when she appeared in a selfie with Miss Israel, Doron Matalon, in Miami. She later apologised and said the Israeli photobombed her selfie.

Support for the Wonder Woman boycott was not unanimous.

Elie Fares, a well-known Lebanese blogger, said the movie already must have been approved to be allowed in theaters in the first place. He said the push for a boycott apparently reflects disputes within the Lebanese government.

“Resist what?” Fares wrote. “A movie about an iconic superhero who’s been part of pop culture for over 70 years. A movie in which the lead actress happens to be Israeli but who’s not portraying ANYTHING related to her ‘country’ in any way whatsoever.”

Lebanon also has a website called “The Virtual Museum of Censorship” that tracks censored artwork since the 1940s.

Boycott campaign supporter Idriss rebuffed critics, saying politics is inseparable from art. “We don’t separate art - even romantic movies - from the role of the artist and the intellectual on the ground,” he said.

There is no clear mechanism for appealing a ban on artwork, and public campaigns often are the only means to protest such a ban. Religious institutions also have a say in artwork with religious references.

Despite the controversy in Lebanon, Wonder Woman is set to open as scheduled on Thursday at theaters in the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait. It is scheduled for release on June 22 in Oman and June 29 in Bahrain.

The movie, based on the DC Comics character, has earned acclaim for Gadot for landing a rare leading role for a woman.

A model and former Miss Israel, Gadot did her mandatory two-year military service in Israel before starting her acting career. She appeared in sequels of the Fast And Furious franchise, none of which were banned in Lebanon.

She appeared in other Hollywood movies before appearing as Wonder Woman in last year’s Batman Vs Superman. The same campaigners sought to bar Batman Vs Superman, which was shown in Lebanese theaters.

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