Writing for The Bigger Picture, BFI FAN Young Programmer Yasmin Begum writes about the importance of the latest BFI FAN New Release title Joyland and its impact on queer cinema in the UK.
Joyland was the 2022 winner of the Queer Palm and the Jury Prize at Cannes Festival – no mean feat for a film that was initially banned in its home country of Pakistan, despite being the Pakistani Academy Selection Committee’s submission to the Academy Awards.
Despite this setback which has since been reversed, Joyland has been shortlisted for an Academy Award, making it the first Pakistani film in the history of the country to be nominated and shortlisted for an Oscar.
Set in bustling Lahore, Joyland follows the Ranases family who are, on the surface, a functional, patriarchal family. The household is made up of Abbas, the elderly father, the older brother, Saleem and his wife Nucchi, and younger brother Haider and his wife Mumtaz. Much to the embarrassment of his traditional father, Haider is the one in his relationship who stays at home, whilst Mumtaz goes to work at the salon every day- a job that she loves. When Haider gets a job in an erotic theatre as a backup dancer for trans starlet, Biba, and starts secretly dating her, everything changes, and the cracks that have always been there, tear the family apart.
With such mainstream award recognition, Joyland offers groundbreaking opportunities for cinemas with its story and themes of gender and sexuality.
The 2021 census has proven what so many people working in film programming know: that our audiences are more varied and diverse than they were a decade ago, and the tastes and habits of audiences are changing.
The census asked “Do you identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender?” for the first time this year, and 10.6% of Britain is LGBTQ. Likewise, 91.7% of the UK identifies as White, a drop of 5% from the last census.
This February marks LGBT+ History Month, which will see cinemas across the country programming films with themes that relate to the LGBT+ community.
While the Pakistani diaspora in Britain is amongst one of the largest in the world, on-screen representations of queerness in Pakistan and in films from South Asia have been very thin on the ground in Britain, a world away from our contemporary attitudes of promoting underrepresented communities in film exhibition and programming.
Cinemas across Britain saw an uptake in attendees six years ago when Moonlight was released, and then later shortlisted for an Oscar. The buzz generated by the Oscars piqued interest in both LGBT+ and non-LGBT+ audiences alike.
Moonlight has continued to be a large moment of reckoning for the exhibition sector on the representation of Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic people who are also LGBT+. With Joyland released this February, the data and engagement surrounding the film are expected to confirm what we’ve long known: that audiences are increasingly more diverse with their habits than they would have been a decade ago thanks to the drip-down effect of conversations on LGBT+ rights and anti-racism efforts within the sector.
With a change in BFI Diversity guidelines, and a new and renewed approach to equality, diversity and inclusion, titles like Joyland present a new and exciting opportunity for cinemas. This LGBT+ History Month, perhaps it could be shown as part of a season of LGBT+ films at your cinema alongside other motion pictures such as Moonlight or programmed alongside short films exploring LGBT+ themes.
Any data or information can feed into your strategic audience planning and development over the next financial year, to better serve your local community, support your wider engagement work and build on good practice.
2022 has been a landmark year for queer cinema and 2023 looks to continue this trend with releases like Blue Jean, Cassandro and Drift, but whereas queer cinema is so often a synonym for English language cinema or films made within the USA or Europe, Joyland presents opportunities to support ongoing engagement work relating to equality, diversity, and inclusion in cinemas across the United Kingdom to bring new and old audiences alike into your cinema.
Yasmin Begum is a queer working class Welsh-Pakistani writer, artist and creative practitioner based in her home town of Cardiff, Wales. A graduate of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, she has since worked across film with Ffilm Cymru Wales, Inclusive Cinema, Cinema Golau, WOW Women’s Film Club, gentle/radical and as a programmer with the Wales Millennium Centre. Yasmin is a Welsh language speaker, and she is especially interested in decolonisation, philosophy, audience development and anti-racism.