The United Arab Emirates has announced the addition of a new over-21 age classification to its motion picture rating system that could become a milestone in moving the needle against censorship across West Asia.
The new rating will allow uncut versions of international movies to be shown in UAE cinemas, though details remain vague.
The UAE’s Media Regulatory Office made the announcement Monday on Twitter, specifying that the new rating for films classified for audiences aged over 21 will allow the international — meaning uncut — version of movies to be shown in cinemas “with an emphasis on the strict following of age classification standards for audience entry.”
Currently across a large portion of the region, which is also known as the Middle East, movies concerning or containing sex, homosexuality and religious issues are routinely cut to comply with censorship due to cultural constraints, or banned outright.
Recent examples of Hollywood films banned in parts of the region are Marvel’s “Eternals,” featuring the first MCU gay superhero, and Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story,” which has a transgender character named Anybodys.
Yet, while “West Side Story” is not currently playing in the UAE, “Eternals” was not banned there, though some scenes were cut. The UAE is now generally considered the country that is pushing the censorship envelope the furthest in the region.
“The UAE has evolved dramatically from where it was 10 or 15 years ago in terms of what is accepted,” Ignace Lahoud, chief executive of Vox Cinemas, which is West Asia’s largest exhibition chain, recently told Variety.
Though it’s certainly a step forward, the full impact of of Monday’s UAE media watchdog announcement remains to be seen. The key aspect will be what films will now be allowed to screen uncut to audiences 21 and over.
Earlier this month the UAE announced that starting in January its official workweek will move to Monday to Friday, a significant change under which government employees will work a half-day on Friday, which is the traditional Muslim holy day, and then take Saturday and Sunday off. It’s still unclear if this change, which will bring the Islamic nation in line with Western schedules, will impact movie releases and whether it will impact box office returns.