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Elton John and Filmmakers Condemn Russian Censorship of ‘Rocketman’

YouTube screenshot of Rocektman trailer
YouTube screenshot of Rocektman trailer

“We reject in the strongest possible terms the decision to pander to local laws and censor Rocketman for the Russian market.”

As a famously anti-gay nation, it’s no surprise that Russia is censoring the new movie Rocketman, based on the life of rock icon Elton John.

Before the worldwide premiere of the new biopic on May 31, reports emerged of Russia editing LGBTQ-related scenes from early screenings in their country, including scenes that involved kissing and sex between John (Taron Egerton) and his one-time manager and lover, John Reid (Richard Madden).

According to The Los Angeles Times, “virtually all the gay sex scenes” as well as “images of drug use” were edited out of screenings to a select audience on Thursday, in Moscow’s October movie theater.

Even a mere photograph of John and his husband in the closing credits were omitted, said Russian film critic Yegor Moskvitin on Rain TV, an independent Russian internet news channel. In all, about five minutes of the film were deleted.

Although the Russian distributor of the film, Central Partnership, said Rocketman was edited to “conform with the legislation of the Russian Federation,” the Russian Ministry of Culture rebuked the claim. The Ministry, which issues distribution licenses for foreign and domestic films, instead said that it was a decision of the company that “rolls the tape”.

There was some rather swift progress to the developing story, however: by late Friday, one Moscow movie theater said it would show an uncensored Rocketman, with subtitles.

The rock star himself publicly condemned the censorship.

“We reject in the strongest possible terms the decision to pander to local laws and censor Rocketman for the Russian market, a move we were unaware of until today,” John and the filmmakers said in a joint statement issued on Friday. “Paramount Pictures have been brave and bold partners in allowing us to create a film which is a true representation of Elton’s extraordinary life, warts and all. That the local distributor has edited out certain scenes, denying the audience the opportunity to see the film as it was intended is a sad reflection of the divided world we still live in and how it can still be so cruelly unaccepting of the love between two people.”

Russia has several restrictions against what it views as LGBTQ “propaganda”, prohibiting themes of such nature to minors under the age of 16.

As John stated himself, however, his new biopic is simply true to life since “I just haven’t led a PG-13 rated life,” he wrote in The Guardian.

Along with its intolerance towards the LGBTQ community, Russia is also pushing towards a more conservative, Christian-based culture overall, resulting in the censorship of movies, books, and art.

Incidentally, last year’s Oscar-winning Bohemian Rhapsody, another biopic about an LGBTQ musician that included scenes of intimacy between men, was released uncensored in Russia.

Rocketman is now in theaters nationwide.

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