'Doctor Strange' sequel is banned in Saudi Arabia over key LGBTQ superhero

Another Marvel Studios movie is facing a ban in conservative Gulf nations due to an LGBTQ-related storyline. Last year, Eternals had its planned theatrical release in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar canceled due to the inclusion of a same-sex couple. Now, the highly anticipated sequel, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, which opens globally on May 5, is facing a similar ban, this time over a hero that is poised to play a key role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Yahoo Entertainment has confirmed.

At issue in the Sam Raimi-directed film is the character of America Chavez, aka Miss America, played by former Baby-Sitters Club star Xochitl Gomez. Originally introduced into Marvel Comics continuity in 2011, America hails from a parallel reality but finds her way into the main Marvel universe, where she becomes a member of the youthful super team the Young Avengers. She's also one of Marvel's most prominent out gay characters, a portrayal that carries over into the film.

Disney declined to comment on the ban, which was initially reported in The Hollywood Reporter.

With homosexual conduct still illegal in multiple Gulf nations, it was anticipated that Doctor Strange as well as Pixar's upcoming Toy Story "sidequel" Lightyear — which restored a same-sex kiss that was previously cut from the film — would face an Eternals-like ban. Steven Spielberg's Oscar-nominated musical, West Side Story, was similarly banned in Saudi Arabia due to its inclusion of a transgender character.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, advanced tickets to Multiverse of Madness are no longer available for purchase in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar, but the film still appears to be on track for release in the United Arab Emirates.

Given her comics trajectory, it's likely that America Chavez, who combines a bulletproof exterior with super strength and super speed, will be a major part of the MCU moving forward. The recent onscreen introductions of young heroes like Hawkeye's Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld) and WandaVision's Wiccan and Speed (Jett Klyne and Julian Hilliard) — all of whom happen to be America's future teammates in the comics — suggests that Marvel Studios might be laying the groundwork for a Young Avengers spin-off aimed at Gen Z audiences. As a Latinx hero, she's also part of the studio's renewed emphasis on diversity, a push that also includes Shang-Chi's Simu Liu and Ms. Marvel's Iman Vellani.

Marvel notably declined to make any content changes to Eternals to appease Saudi censors, and the film was released unaltered in other international territories. "I’m proud of Marvel for refusing to cut those scenes out," Eternals star, Angelina Jolie, said of the studio's decision at the time. "How anybody is angry about it, threatened by it, doesn't approve or appreciate it is ignorant."

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness premieres May 6 in theaters.

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