When Russian moviegoers turn out to see Dexter Fletcher’s lauded Elton John biopic “Rocketman” in the coming weeks, they will not be getting the full picture. The Guardian reports that the Taron Egerton-starring musical has been cut by an estimated five minutes due to Russia’s laws banning “homosexual propaganda.” The outlet reports that popular Russian film critic Anton Dolin took to Facebook after seeing the film in Russia (and after seeing its original version earlier this month), commenting that “all scenes with kissing, sex and oral sex between men have been cut out.”
Dolin added that “the nastiest part is that the final caption has been removed from the finale,” referring to a final sequence that offers updates on John’s life today and of course includes mentions of John with his real-life husband, David Furnish, and a note on how the pair are happily raising their two children together. Instead, the Russian version of the film only says that John established an AIDS foundation and is still working with his musical partner Bernie Taupin (played by Jamie Bell in the film). Scenes featuring drug use were also reportedly cut.
Russia’s Culture Ministry told Interfax on Friday that it was not responsible for the scenes being removed, and that it was “solely the film distributor’s decision to cut the scenes.” The film is distributed by Central Partnership, which partnered with U.S. distributor Paramount in 2008 to bring its most popular films to Russia in a landmark deal.
John is a popular artist in Russia, and as The Guardian notes, he has continued to perform in Russia even after the country passed its controversial “anti-gay propaganda” law in 2013, which was “targeted mainly against public events like pride celebrations.” Under the law, “any public display of homosexuality is effectively prohibited in Russia, ostensibly to protect minors against the ‘harm’ which positive information about ‘non-traditional sexual relations’ may cause them. No such restrictions apply to adults.”
Amnesty International has already hit back at the news, and in a press release, the organization notes that the cutting of the film is “yet another example of Russia’s ‘gay propaganda law’ undermining freedom of expression and encouraging homophobia in Russia.” The organization’s statement also added that “the Russian film distributor may have gone beyond even what is required under the homophobic legislation. The film is rated ’18+’ so no minor in Russia would be admitted to the cinema to watch it.”
Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International’s Russia Office Director, has also called for the deleted scenes to be restored to the film, commenting that “this homophobic censorship of a film about Elton John is as ridiculous as it is insulting for LGBTI people and anyone in the country who stands for dignity and non-discrimination. By censoring any expression of affection between two human beings of the same sex, this mutilated version of the film insults and dehumanises same-sex relationships.”
Earlier this month, Fletcher explained to IndieWire why an R-rating was key to the film he wanted to make. “Paramount greenlit an R-rated script,” Fletcher said. “Elton’s story was no-holds-barred; there was never any doubt about that. There are different levels of an R. You don’t want to make a film that freezes out a wider audience. At the same time, it was clear from the outset that the film had to show the loves Elton had. Those loves are always going to be slightly challenging and extreme. We were not under any illusions. … I was never unduly pressured by the producers or the studio. There’s quite a lot of R content. I had to say, ‘This is what’s important’ in the course of it, no more than the norm.”
“Rocketman” is in U.S. theaters today.