The Malaysian government has confirmed that Marvel film “Thor: Love and Thunder” was prevented from releasing in local theaters due to its LGBT elements. A minister said on Wednesday that the government is committed to curtailing gay culture.
Both “Thor” and Pixar animated film “Lightyear” were submitted by distributor Disney for classification and censorship by the country’s Film Censorship Board (LPF). Variety understands that in both cases the LPF asked for cuts that the studio chose not make, effectively depriving the pictures of a theatrical release. “Lightyear” was banned in 16 or more Muslim-majority countries.
“Recently there was a film that did not pass censorship, that is the new ‘Thor’ film,” said Deputy Communications and Multimedia Minister Zahidi Zainul Abidin. “[The movie] touched on LGBT but we see right now there are many films with LGBT elements that slip past the censorship.”
Zahidi said that government and the religious department (correctly known as Islamic Affairs Department or JAKIM), were committed to curtailing the spread of LGBT culture in the country. He blamed foreign elements for the problem, claimed that LGBT films were becoming more subtle in their methods and asked for public vigilance.
“I am frustrated because the outside world was the one promoting LGBT,” he said responding to a question in Parliament.
Zahidi said the government was always monitoring films and social media platforms for LGBT content and “would take severe action against individuals found promoting such elements.”
However, the minister also revealed that beyond movie theaters and broadcast TV, his powers are limited and do not cover streaming services such as TikTok or Netflix which are based outside the country. That appears to leave Disney free to air the movies on the Malaysian version of Disney+ Hotstar, and it has been reported that “Lightyear” is already on the platform with an 18+ recommendation.
“We cannot control overseas platforms that are easily reached online — but activities in the country, we have no issues. We have always been stern and committed,” he said.
“Provisions in the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 do not include censorship of such content which is spelled out under Section 3(3),” Zahidi told the Dewan Negara, or upper house of Parliament.
“In addition, OTT services like Netflix are not like public broadcast services or private institutions in the country that fall under existing laws involving licensing and censorship in the country.”
Instead, Zahidi advised Malaysians to exercise self-restraint and for parents to use the age-control systems contained within streaming platforms to restrict access to LGBT content.
The Malaysian government’s commitment to censoring LGBT content puts the country increasingly at odds with Hollywood studios and U.S. producers. Many of these are moving in the opposite direction and are increasing their efforts to represent societal diversity — sexual preferences, gender orientation, linguistic and disabilities — both on screen and behind the camera.
Malaysia has laws which promote racial and religious tolerance between the population’s three main ethnic groups. But the Muslim-dominated country shows no tolerance for male or female homosexuality.
Malaysia’s federal penal code criminalizes consensual all same-sex relations. Those found guilty face a prison sentence of up to 20 years and mandatory whipping.
Zahidi’s remarks in Parliament came the same day as the publication of a 71-page report by Human Rights Watch and transgender-rights group Justice for Sisters, which called on Malaysia to decriminalize same-sex relations and to end gay-conversion therapy.
“In addition to institutionalized discrimination and human rights violations that amount to torture, LGBT people also face discrimination and violence from members of the public. Perpetrators are rarely held accountable,” the report said.
The JAKIM and some regional Islamic affairs departments organize retreats (mukhayyam), to reorient LGBT towards accepted Muslim sexual standards. Citing what it said were government figures, the report said that over 1,700 LGBT people have been put through such therapy.
“Malaysia’s current rehabilitation and criminalization approaches to LGBT people are based neither in rights nor evidence,” said Thilaga Sulathireh, co-founder of Justice for Sisters. “The programs, while framed as compassionate, internalize societal and structural discrimination and foment self-hatred among LGBTQ and gender diverse persons and hostility among the rest of the population.”
Malaysia has previously acted to prevent the screening of films including “Rocketman,” and a book titled “Gay Is O.K.! A Christian Perspective.”