BIPOC Voices, Entertainment

Steven Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story’ is banned in several countries

In some Middle Eastern countries.

words by: Alee Kwong
Jan 2, 2022


Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story has been banned in the following countries — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, and the UAE. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the aforementioned countries requested that the film make several cuts to the project, but Disney refused to censor it.


The 2021 adaptation of West Side Story features the character Anybodys, a transgender character played by nonbinary actor Iris Menas. This is reportedly one of the reasons the film has been banned. Recently, Marvel Studios’ Eternals received the same treatment, as it was banned in Middle Eastern countries for displaying a same-sex kiss.


Saudi Arabia and censors in other markets also sought cuts beyond any scenes of intimacy and Disney willingly chose not to make such cuts, which is why distribution certificates weren’t issued. In the UAE, a version of Eternals was ultimately released that removed all scenes of intimacy — heterosexual and homosexual as is generally normal practice for these markets.



West Side Story follows follows two teenagers, Tony and Maria, in New York in the 1950s. A modern Romeo and Juliet story, the two fall in love despite each being attached to two rival gangs, the Jets and the Sharks.


While the film is remains largely faithful to the stage musical by Arthur Laurents, Leonard Bernstein and the late Stephen Sondheim, Spielberg has previously discussed one major change audiences can expect to see in the upcoming West Side Story adaptation. In an interview with the BBC, the legendary director stated, “First thing I said was every single Shark, boy and girl, needs to come from the Latinx communities… And without fail.” This comment from Spielberg is important because the all-white cast has been a point of controversy with regard to the 1961 film.


West Side Story is playing in theaters domestically and has already received strong reviews with a 95% Fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes. Lead Rachel Zegler was named Best Actress by the National Board of Review, and the New York Film Critics Circle gave the movie a nod for Best Cinematography.


In related movie news, check out January’s movie releases.


Photos via Disney