Pakistani movie distributors and television stations are boycotting an Oscar-nominated film about the hunt for Osama bin Laden as well as some popular U.S. TV dramas to avoid offending sensibilities or sparking a violent backlash.
Pakistan may have a starring role in Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, which dramatizes the 10-year CIA hunt for the 9/11 mastermind, but local cinemas are steering clear of a film they say could make people feel humiliated.
Similarly, a local cable distributor is blocking transmission of the smash hit TV dramas Homeland, starring Claire Danes, and Last Resort, on the grounds they are against the national interest.
The boycotts are the latest form of unofficial censorship in the conservative country, where YouTube has been blocked for four months over a trailer for an American film considered offensive to Muslims.
Zero Dark Thirty has topped the box-office charts in the United States and earned five Oscar nods. But in Pakistan, the raid to kill bin Laden is considered one of the blacker incidents in the country’s history.
A U.S. Navy SEAL team killed the al-Qaeda chief in his hideout less than a mile from Pakistan’s premier military academy on May 2, 2011, embarrassing Pakistani leaders who had insisted bin Laden was dead, and exposing its military to accusations of incompetence or collusion with al-Qaeda.
“We have not and neither has anyone else bought Zero Dark Thirty,” said Mohsin Yaseen, a representative for film-distribution company Cinepax.
He described the film as “pro-American,” despite controversy in the U.S. over its depictions of so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques,” widely seen as torture.
“It has several scenes which could make us feel humiliated. It is against the interests of Pakistani nation,” said Yaseen.
The chairman of the Film Censors Board told AFP it had not reviewed Zero Dark Thirty because there had been no request to do so.
In 2010 censors banned Indian Bollywood comedy Tere bin Laden, which poked fun at the al-Qaeda leader, on the grounds that it could offend Muslims and incite suicide attacks.
Max Media, which has the rights in Pakistan to cable channel Star World, is refusing to transmit Homeland and the military drama Last Resort.
While Last Resort features U.S. nuclear strikes on Pakistan, the country is referred to only briefly in Homeland, which stars Damian Lewis as a U.S. Marine who is also a suspected al-Qaeda agent.
“We strongly believe that programs such as Homeland and Last Resort are against our national interest, cultural values and ideology,” said an official at Max Media who did not want to be named.
He said the programs were suspended in keeping with a code of conduct from the Pakistan Electronic Media Regularity Authority and warned that even “a vague reference about Islam can ignite violence in Pakistan.”
But a thriving trade in pirated DVDs allows Pakistanis to watch whatever they want in the privacy of their homes and Zero Dark Thirty, Homeland and Last Resort are big sellers.
“We do not have any threats or concerns, nor has any one stopped us from selling these DVDs,” said a salesman at one popular DVD shop in Islamabad.