Cinema is not only a tool for entertainment; through the years, it has been a particularly effective means of political enlightenment. Since the art form was invented, the medium has seen its fair share of pointed protest films. Many of these politically active features have not only garnered great commercial and critical success, but have made an enduring social impact.
Of course, with that social awareness often comes political forces determined to stop any impact the feature may have. Here is a list of seven controversial, politically active films that were banned when they were released:
The Year of Living Dangerously (1982) – The great Peter Weir directed and co-wrote this romantic drama set amidst the chaos of the Sukarno administration in 1960s Indonesia; the film cemented Sigourney Weaver’s stardom, won Linda Hunt an Oscar, and brought Mel Gibson to the public’s attention. It also garnered a ban by the Indonesian government. The film was finally un-banned in Indonesia in 1999.
The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) – Martin Scorsese directed this adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis’ extraordinarily controversial book, presenting Jesus Christ (played in the film by Willem Dafoe) as a troubled figure with very human characteristics. Naturally, it garnered a great deal of uproar among Christian religious figures – the film is still banned in the Philippines and Singapore. Its release even lead to violence; there was an attack on a Paris theater that was showing the film during which several people were injured in the fall of 1988.
The Interview (2014) – Where to start with this Seth Rogen satire? It’s a comedic look at a shallow journalist (James Franco) and his producer (Rogen) who head to North Korea to interview Kim Jong-Un (a hilarious Randall Park). The release of the film garnered threats by the North Korean government against America, causing major theater chains to pull the film. Of course, there was also that matter of the FBI believing North Korea had hacked Sony Pictures thanks to the film’s release. In the end, the movie garnered a limited release and a wide digital release, making its budget back.
The Great Dictator (1940) – One of Charlie Chaplin’s masterpieces, this comedic hit (nominated for five Oscars) is a thinly-veiled attack on the fascist policies of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. Naturally, it was banned in Nazi Germany, along with Argentina – which had a strong group of Nazi sympathizers throughout the Second World War.
Persepolis (2014) – One of the most beautiful animated features ever produced, this film from comic artist / filmmakers Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi is a striking look at a young girl’s life during the Iranian Revolution of 1979 (based on the autobiographical graphic novels by Satrapi). The government of Lebanon initially banned the film for supposed anti-Islamic themes.
District 9 (2009) – Neill Blomkamp’s groundbreaking, intelligent action film, set in a futuristic South African slum populated by visiting aliens, has both an exploration of xenophobia and segregation at its core; a reflection of Blomkamp’s native country during the apartheid era. Its less-than-flattering portrait of Nigeria, however, caused the movie to be banned in that country.
All Quiet on the Western Front (1929) – This harrowing adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s stark novel of the First World War is a classic; it even won an Oscar for Lewis Milestone’s direction. Its bleak view of conflict – and Germany’s participation in the war – brought it into conflict with the Nazi party after it came to power, and the film was banned in Germany through the 1930s and 1940s.