Elton John and the filmmakers behind Rocketman released a joint statement protesting reports that Russian censors were editing scenes of homosexuality out of the biopic. The film contains imagery of men undressing and kissing, having sex and participating in a fantasy orgy.
“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,” the statement reads.
“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, and will continue to push for the breaking down of barriers until all people are heard equally across the world.”
The Guardian reports that a Russian media company has allegedly altered the film, removing around five minutes of footage, citing laws that ban “homosexual propaganda.” A Russian film critic, Anton Dolin, wrote on Facebook that “all scenes with kissing, sex and oral sex between men have been cut out.” He also claimed that it excised a line at the end of the movie that said John was raising kids with his husband; instead if says he started an AIDS foundation and continues work with his musical partner. Additionally, scenes of drug use were removed.
Over the years, John has spoken out against Russia’s draconian laws regarding sexual orientation. When the country passed anti-gay laws a few years ago, he wrote an open letter on his website. “Vicious homophobia has been legitimized by this legislation and given extremists the cover to abuse people’s basic human rights,” he wrote in 2014.
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Nevertheless, he continued to tour there and later that year addressed how he felt about the laws at a concert. “As a gay man, I’ve always felt so welcome here in Russia,” he said. “Stories of Russian fans — men and women who fell in love dancing to ‘Nikita’ or their kids who sing along to ‘Circle of Life’ — mean the world to me. If I’m not honest about who I am, I couldn’t write this music. It’s not gay propaganda. It’s how I express life. If we start punishing people for that, the world will lose its humanity.” The year after that, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered to meet with John to discuss gay rights. The Guardian reports that no such meeting has taken place.
In an essay for The Guardian, John discussed what it meant to him to see his life dramatized on the big screen, as well as his intention to tell his story as truly as possible. “Some studios wanted to tone down the sex and drugs so the film would get a PG-13 rating,” he wrote. “But I just haven’t led a PG-13 rated life. I didn’t want a film packed with drugs and sex, but equally, everyone knows I had quite a lot of both during the Seventies and Eighties, 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.”