With Marvel Studios poised to drop its latest cinematic juggernaut, Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, on May 4, the studio has just learned that at least one nation, Saudi Arabia, has issued a preemptive ban on the film. The reason: the film includes a supporting character who is queer.
Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness picks up just after the events of Spider-Man: No Way Home. That film introduced the concept of the Marvel Multiverse: an infinite web of dimensions where every moment in history can have an alternate outcome. Sorcerer superhero Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) teams with–and later battles–the rogue avenger Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), a powerful magician scouring the multiverse for her two sons. Other plot details remain predictably scarce, though Marvel has announced that the film will also include the character America Chavez/Miss America (played by Xochitl Gomez), who happens to be a lesbian.
Now, The Hollywood Reporter has revealed that Saudi Arabia has banned the movie over the inclusion of the America Chavez character. The nation has harsh prohibitions against the depiction of anything queer-related in movies. The trade paper further reports that Kuwait and Qatar will ban the film as well, though, at the time of this writing, that remains unconfirmed.
The banning of Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness follows a similar boycott of another Marvel film, Eternals, last year. That movie included a married, gay male couple (played by Brian Tyree Henry and Haaz Sleiman) raising a child together. Several Persian Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman all demanded Marvel/Disney censor the film. When the studio denied their requests, the countries banned it outright. The Fox/Disney movie West Side Story met with a similar fate not long after, as it included a transgender character.
For our part, we feel sad for audiences–especially LGBTQ viewers–in the Gulf States that will miss out on Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness. We’ve been waiting for decades to see a lesbian superhero do cosmic battle with sorcerers over an infinite web of universes. Couple that with the introduction of at least two major Marvel Comics icons in the movie (yes we know who, and no, we aren’t saying…but look at trailers for a clue), and we can’t help but get excited.