Elton John, Rocketman filmmakers condemn Russia censorship of film

Elton John and the filmmaking team behind Rocketman spoke out after reports emerged of Russia scrubbing LGBTQ-related scenes from film screenings in the country, including scenes involving kissing and sex.

“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.”

“We believe in building bridges and open dialogue,” the statement continues, “and will continue to push for the breaking down of barriers until all people are heard equally across the world.”

Word of the censorship emerged from various Russian media outlets after a screening of the edited version of Rocketman showed in Moscow on Thursday. According to The Los Angeles Times, Yegor Moskvitin, a Russian film critic, told the Rain TV news station that the cut scenes included “all the scenes of kissing, sex and oral sex between men,” as well as certain scenes involving drug use. The Guardian estimated “five minutes” were cut.

Another incident of censorship involves the end credits of the film, according to Russian reporter Anton Dolin. Roughly translated, Dolin wrote in a Facebook post, “In the original it says that Elton John has found the love of a lifetime and is raising with his beloved man [and] children… In the Russian version, instead, it is reported that the musician founded the fund of fighting with Aids [sic] and still work[s] with a longtime co-Author.”

The Russia Ministry of Culture did not immediately respond to EW’s request for comment, but the Ministry gave a statement to Russian outlet Interfax that reads, “The Ministry of Culture of Russia did not give any recommendations on the removal of scenes from this picture, this is solely a decision of the company that rolls the tape.”

Russia is one of the more restrictive countries when it comes to LGBTQ rights, especially LGBTQ visibility in entertainment. According to what is commonly referred to LGBTQ “propaganda” laws in the country, the distribution of “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships among minors” is prohibited, as is, more generally, “the promotion of non-traditional sexual relationships.” According to the 2014 HBO documentary Hunted: The War Against Gays in Russia, the definition of “propaganda” is fairly widespread.

For Hollywood films releasing in the country, the issue came up prominently with Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast and the reveal of Josh Gad’s LeFou being gay. Russia considered not screening the film in theaters. Instead, it was released with an age restriction.

Rocketman stars Taron Egerton as Elton John and Richard Madden as John’s former manager and lover, John Reid. In a separate statement, a spokesperson for Paramount told EW, “We are incredibly proud of the movie that we made, which is told in the way that Elton John wanted his story to be depicted. We are releasing the film in its entirety around the world regardless of rating, but like all studios, we must adhere to local laws and requirements in certain territories in which the film is being shown.”

John maintained how important it was to include imagery of sex and drug use in the film. “I just haven’t led a PG-13 rated life,” he wrote in The Guardian. “I didn’t want a film packed with drugs and sex, but equally, everyone knows I had quite a lot of both during the ’70s and ’80s, so there didn’t seem to be much point in making a movie that implied that after every gig, I’d quietly gone back to my hotel room with only a glass of warm milk and the Gideon’s Bible for company.”

In an April interview with GQ magazine’s U.K. edition, Egerton also addressed the intimate sex scenes between his and Madden’s characters, as well as any potential response from Russia.

“Those scenes are desperately important when you have an icon of that magnitude, who means so much to one community,” the actor said. “[John] has been such a standard bearer. And for me, especially as a heterosexual actor, not to push the envelope as far as I can or try to make it a wholehearted celebration of being a gay man would be wrong. It’s a studio movie. It’s Elton John. We’ve got to own that. I don’t care how well the film does in Russia. It doesn’t matter. It can’t matter. What’s an extra $25 million at the box office? What are you willing to do for that? Sacrifice sleeping at night because you watered the whole thing down?”

Rocketman is now playing in U.S. theaters.

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