ROME – Lebanon officially banned “Wonder Woman” on Wednesday roughly two hours before the film was scheduled to screen in the country’s movie theaters.
The ban was prompted by a group called Campaign to Boycott Supporters of Israel – Lebanon, which pressured the government in Beirut to block the movie because lead actress Gal Gadot is Israeli. Lebanon is officially at war with Israel.
The “Wonder Woman” ban was announced on the official Twitter feed of Lebanon’s Grand Cinemas and confirmed by several other sources.
The decision was taken by a six-member committee of the Ministry of Economy. The ban is somewhat surprising because the film had already gone through Lebanon’s regular censorship process and because the same anti-Israeli organization had failed to persuade the Lebanese government to pull “Batman v. Superman,” in which Gadot also stars.
Also, a sneak preview of “Wonder Woman” on Tuesday evening, ahead of its premiere Wednesday, went off without incident.
The ban immediately drew ridicule from some within Lebanon, including popular blogger Elie Fares. “Can you also ban Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Viber, Starbucks, all smartphones and laptops?” Fares tweeted.
In his blog, Fares added: “Resist what? 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.”
There was no immediate comment from Vox Cinemas, a regional exhibitor that was set to release the film in Lebanon, or from Joseph Chakra & Sons, the licensee for Warner Bros. titles in the country.
The impact on box office of the “Wonder Woman” ban in Lebanon is expected to be negligible overall since it’s creating additional publicity for the film in the rest of the region and also internationally.
Lebanon, which has been officially at war with Israel for decades, has a law that encourages boycotts of Israeli products and bars Lebanese citizens from traveling to Israel or having contacts with Israelis.
On its Facebook page, the Campaign to Boycott Supporters of Israel – Lebanon said that Gadot was a soldier in the Israeli army and had praised Israel’s military actions during the 2014 war in Gaza.
However, many other films starring Gadot, including “Fast & Furious 6,” “Furious 7,” “Triple 9,” and “Knight & Day,” played in Lebanon and were box-office hits there.
Alaa Karkouti, a Cairo-based film analyst, said he did not expect the Lebanese ban to affect the release of “Wonder Woman” elsewhere in the Arab world. At this point, “Wonder Woman” is scheduled to roll out in the Gulf on June 1, in Morocco on June 8, and in Egypt shortly after June 24, the end of the holy month of Ramadan. In Egypt, foreign movies rarely play during Ramadan, and in any case, Egypt has a peace treaty with Israel. Politics are not expected to come into play in Morocco either. It is scheduled for release June 22 in Oman and June 29 in Bahrain.
Karkouti criticized the ban as “really out of order because it’s not about content.”
“It’s not an Israeli actress in a film about Israel or about a sensitive political issue,” he said. “If this is Lebanon’s policy, then Lebanon should also stop participating in international film festivals where Israeli films are shown.”
Censorship has been getting tighter in Lebanon recently. Earlier this year, Egyptian director Magdi Ahmed Ali’s “The Preacher” (“Mawlana”), a critique of corruption and fundamentalism, was initially banned, then allowed to be shown only after cuts were made.
In 2013, the Lebanese government heeded a call by the Arab League to ban Lebanese-born filmmaker Ziad Doueiri’s “The Attack” because it was shot in Israel. As a result, the film was “massively pirated across Lebanon where the DVD was prominently showcased and sold in all major pirate DVD stores there,” says the film’s Middle East distributor Gianluca Chakra, head of Dubai-based Front Row Entertainment.
“Did they actually stop people from watching the film? Absolutely not,” he said.
Elsa Keslassy contributed to this report