The Pakistani film ‘Joyland’ finally got a limited release across the country on Nov 18th. It had already been cleared by the Censor Board in August of this year. But close to its release date,
complaints started to come in about the film’s “highly objectionable material” which “does not
conform with the social values and moral standards of our country.”
However, the response to Joyland abroad has been phenomenal. It was the first Pakistani film
to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival and bring home the Jury Prize as well as the Queer
“Again and again, we are told that those who speak the truth in Pakistan are painting a
negative image of the country. All Joyland has done is win Pakistan praise and accolades
around the globe. It has generated a conversation on the brilliance of Pakistani art. What
image does banning it paint?” said Rasti Farooq, a cast member.
The heart of the story is a complex and thoughtful portrayal of a middle-class family from Lahore
as they navigate the most human trials and tribulations of everyday life in our society. As a
young queer person in this country, seeing our stories on the big screen was a fantasy. To have
our stories told by us with respect and complexity seemed impossible. Joyland brought so much
joy to the LGBTQ folks in this country. For the first time we weren’t the butt of jokes or
caricatures, but mere humans with joys and sorrows similar to everyone else.
If morality was the real issue at hand, we would have seen the ban of many Pakistani films this
year for the “portrayal of heterosexual romance amongst the unmarried.” But none of these
prior releases saw a ban. Using morality as an excuse to be transphobic is shameful. This was
an entirely manufactured and insidious campaign of hatred and the use of transphobia to gain
political support amongst the right-wing masses. Since the beginning of this year, an inside
operation has been brewing against the Trans Act of 2018, seeking to strip the indigenous
Khawaja Sira trans folks of the most basic human rights. This year has also seen an extreme
rise in transwomen being murdered which has been called a “trans genocide” by many activists
considering its extent.
Art is always a source of joy and resistance for marginalized communities everywhere. And the
first step to strip a community of its power is to steal their ability to tell their stories. To
counteract the right-wing narrative, so many young queer folks, their allies as well as
progressive folks took to social media to trend the hashtag #Release Joyland. This effort led to
its partial release this week. However, filmgoers in Sindh and Islamabad were shocked to see
the film butchered. Multiple scenes and crucial dialogue had been censored, taking away so
much of the film’s essence and hurting its storytelling. I hope to see the uncut version on a
streaming platform soon.
According to Malala Yousafzai, who serves as an executive producer on the film, “Joyland is a
love letter to Pakistan, to its culture, food, fashion and, most of all, its people. It’s a film
about the ways in which patriarchy hurts everyone — men, women and children. It’s a
film about the healing powers of female friendship and solidarity. It’s a film about the
costs of ignoring our own dreams to conform to society around us.”
This isn’t only about Joyland. This is about a fear of everything good, true, and beautiful, of
everything meaningful. This is about all the lives that are lived in this place, all the lives that
must be seen. There is nothing else worth telling if we can’t tell this.