The Pakistani film Joyland has been trending online since it won the Cannes Queer Palm prize for the best LGBT, queer, or feminist-themed movie on Friday. The movie poster features a daring portrait of a transgender dancer in a Muslim country.
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Director Saim Sadiq tells a tale of the sexual revolution in the movie Joyland. The storyline features a narrative of the youngest son in a patriarchal family who is expected to produce a baby boy with his wife. He instead joins an erotic dance theatre and falls for the troupe’s director, a trans woman.
Cannes Festival Prize
Joyland is the first-ever Pakistani competitive entry at the Cannes festival. It won the Jury Prize in the “Un Certain Regard” competition, a segment focusing on young, innovative cinema talent. Talking about the movie, Queer Palm jury head, French director Catherine Corsini, said:
It’s a very powerful film that represents everything that we stand for. Joyland will echo across the world. It has strong characters who are both complex and real. Nothing is distorted. We were blown away by this film.
Joyland beat off several other strong entries, including Close by Belgian director Lukas Dhont and Tchaikovsky’s Wife by Kirill Serebrennikov – both hot contenders for the Cannes Festival’s top Palme d’Or award, which will be announced on Saturday. Joyland left Cannes audiences slack-jawed and admiring and got a standing ovation from the opening night’s crowd.
Part of the surprise stemmed from the discovery by many at Cannes that Pakistan is one of the first nations to have given legal protection against discrimination against transgender people. In 2009, Pakistan legally recognized the third sex, and in 2018 the first transgender passport was issued.
Director Saim Sadiq’s interview
Speaking to a media outlet, director Saim Sadiq said:
Pakistan is very schizophrenic, almost bipolar. You get, of course, prejudice and some violence against a particular community on the one hand. Still, you also get this very progressive law that allows everyone to identify their own gender and the third gender.
Festival Cold-Shouldering Queer Palm
The Queer Palm has been won by big-name directors in the past and attracted top talent to its juries but has no official place at the world’s top film festival. Awards for films with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer content are already an integral part of other major movie gatherings, including Berlin, which has handed out its Teddy Award since 1987 and made it part of its official program.
However, at Cannes, the festival’s leadership will not even allow the Queer Palm – running for a decade – to set up shop in its main building, the Palais du Festival. Sharing her concern, Corsini said:
It makes me sad that the festival is still cold-shouldering the Queer Palm.
Release in Pakistan
Joyland has already been acquired for a theatrical release in France, but releasing the film in Pakistan may be a challenge. Sarwat Gilani, who starred in a 2020 feminist detective web series, Churails, that was banned in Pakistan anticipates challenges, criticism, and several cuts by censors if the film gets permission for a theatrical release. However, Saim Sadiq is hopeful.
Regardless of the censorship and ban on the film in Pakistan, it’s great to see a Pakistani movie and actors move mountains in global entertainment. Given the praise and appreciation, people are hoping more directors and actors will work on projects that address powerful concepts existing in our society. And soon, the censor board will allow these films to be aired in public.
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