BEIRUT (Reuters) -Lebanon's culture minister moved to ban the film "Barbie" from cinemas on Wednesday, saying it "promotes homosexuality" and contradicts religious values.
Minister Mohammad Mortada is backed by powerful Shi'ite armed group Hezbollah, whose head Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has ramped up his rhetoric against the LGBT community, referring in a recent speech to Islamic texts that call for punishing offenders with death.
Mortada's decision said the film was found to "promote homosexuality and sexual transformation" and "contradicts values of faith and morality" by diminishing the importance of the family unit.
Based on Mortada's move, Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi in turn asked General Security's censorship committee, which falls under the interior ministry and is traditionally responsible for censorship decisions, to review the film and give its recommendation.
Kuwait followed in Lebanon's footsteps later in the day, saying it had banned "Barbie" and supernatural horror film "Talk to Me" to protect "public ethics and social traditions", the state news agency said.
Lebanon was the first Arab country to hold a gay pride week in 2017 and has generally been seen as a safe haven for the LGBT community in the broadly conservative Middle East.
But the issue has come into sharper focus recently, sparking tensions. Mawlawi last year took a decision to ban events "promoting sexual perversion" in Lebanon, understood to refer to LGBT-friendly gatherings.
In a speech last month, Nasrallah called on Lebanese authorities to take action against materials he deemed to be promoting homosexuality, including by "banning" them.
He said homosexuality posed an "imminent danger" to Lebanon and should be "confronted". In the case of a homosexual act, Nasrallah said in late July, "from the first time, even if he is unmarried, he is killed".
On Tuesday, Lebanon's cabinet urged citizens to "cling" to family values following a meeting with the country's top Christian cleric Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rai, although it did not mention the LGBT community specifically.
Ayman Mhanna, executive director at the non-profit civic Samir Kassir Foundation, told Reuters that Mortada's move came amid "a wave of bigotry".
"This is part of a broader campaign that is bringing together Hezbollah, the Christian far right, and other top religious leaders in a focused campaign against LGBT people," Mhanna said.
Starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling as Barbie and Ken, the movie sends Mattel Inc's doll on an adventure into the real world. The film has topped $1 billion in box office ticket sales worldwide since its July 21 debut.
(Reporting by Laila Bassam and Maya Gebeily; Editing by Toby Chopra, Nick Macfie & Shri Navaratnam)