ne would think that the people living in a country where opportunities are few, resources are scarce, and literacy is not as widespread as we would hope, would consider consequences before deciding to commit themselves to speaking against already disenfranchised communities.
The recent floods in Pakistan threaten to nudge between 5.8 and nine million people into further poverty, effectively making the country overall even more downtrodden than it is. Efforts for flood relief have shown us that Pakistanis are a generous people. We have also seen leaps made towards recognition of our creative industries on international platforms. The Glassworker, created and animated by Mano Animation studios received standing ovations at the Work In Progress showcase at Annecy Animation Festival in France, and in the weeks that followed, Joyland, a feature film by director Saim Sadiq won applause and accolades at the Cannes Film Festival and Toronto International Film Festival. Joyland was picked as Pakistan’s official entry to the Oscars, bringing it under the spotlight even more, drawing the ire of more conservative potential audiences as a result.
A campaign to ban Joyland raged on within the country’s halls of power and social platforms, resulting in a ban that thankfully didn’t last long. The Punjab government has still not given the film a green light, citing inappropriate content as the reason.
In case you’re wondering what the inappropriate content is, Joyland features a transgender character in one of the lead roles. Why this is alarming is beyond us, as the trans community has lived and breathed in the same air as cisgender, heterosexual people since time immemorial. If we are going to encourage quieting down a community that exists in flesh and blood just because they don’t fit into the mold of what is deemed as ‘normal’ or respectable by Pakistani society, should we, by the same proxy, also work towards not featuring children in a movie? Any parent will tell you no child is completely sane, and they have the receipts to prove it. Should we now ban characters with speaking animals, as they may lead people to believe animals have preternatural powers?
Enter Maria B.
Maria B was once a young designer who made modern clothes, and still does quite well with her pret, bridals, and unstitched lines. Maria B, who was only ever known as an okay designer, has been making her presence felt with her misadventures and views on things.
A couple of years ago, the designer made news because her husband and her had allowed a member of their staff to travel back to his village despite being COVID positive. Her husband had been taken into custody following this, and the pair made a video outlining the brutality with which the action was carried out. The couple received no sympathy for flouting COVID restrictions and one would hope that would have adjusted the designer’s worldview a bit.
That didn’t happen though, and Maria B has in the last year, applauded the decision by a certain Lahore school to uninvite a trans rights activist as a speaker, citing that we must not expose our children to such immorality. She clarified then, that the speaker in question, Dr Mehrub Moiz Awan, was just a bad influence because of the topics she addresses on her private platforms and the language that she employs.
And then, after an uplifting summer of film releases and films going places. Joyland was to finally release in Pakistan. Director Saim Sadiq has specifically noted that the plot is really about how the patriarchy affects society, and not, as is believed, about the trans character Biba, particularly.
When Joyland’s release date approached, a campaign to ban the film from Pakistani theaters ensued. Maria B once again lent her support to the ban, claiming it threatened religious values. Maria B has made her politics clear, and they are grim.
Quite apart from arguing against the fact that the film hurts religious sentiments with Biba’s presence in the narrative, as the core sentiment of the religion the majority follow in our country is of kindness and tolerance, is the fact that Maria B ‘s – or anyone’s – faith can’t be threatened by a work of fiction as surely her faith is stronger than that? That maybe the industry Maria B works in is also not aligned with said religious sentiments. That being in a place of privilege with thousands of followers at your disposal, one must be cognizant of what they’re saying and when; fueling hatred when one is a public figure is being complicit in any consequences that follow.
What Maria B should be more concerned about is how her creations are damaging to the sentiments of people with any aesthetic sense, and she must either mend her ways, or discontinue this assault on our collective senses posthaste.