Rocketman, the biopic focused on the life of rockstar Elton John, released in domestic theaters today, but critics in Russia have found something off about the film. Distributors for the Russian release have edited out content that refers to John’s homosexuality and drug usage. Originally premiered at Cannes Film Festival a few weeks back, critics at a Moscow preview for the film today took note of around five minutes of footage that have been removed or altered. Rocketman isn’t set to release in the country until next Thursday, so this is likely a move to push a political agenda on the film before it goes public.
One of Russia’s top film critics, Anton Dolin, wrote in a Facebook post, “All scenes with kissing and sex between men were cut…It applied to the dubbed and sub-titled versions alike.” He also noted that a message towards the end of the film had been modified, removing information that John is now living with his partner David Furnish and raising children together. Another critic, Misha Kozyrev, added that all instances of drug and alcohol usage were completely removed as well as scenes that show the struggle John had with his sexuality.
After the news spread about these changes, both John and the filmmakers behind Rocketman became infuriated. In a joint statement, John and the producers wrote:
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. 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.
Domestic distributor Paramount Pictures released its own statement in support of the film. “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”
Speaking to Russian news agency TASS, Rocketman’s Russian distributor, Central Partnership, explained that the edits were made to comply with Russian laws. It didn’t elaborate further. As critics have noted, Russia does contain laws prohibiting the promotion of “non-traditional sexual relationships” to minors, but that Rocketman carries an 18 rating. That should have been enough to allow the scenes to remain untouched.
Going further, Russia’s conservative culture minister, Vladimir Medinsky, denied any interference with the film’s distribution. Speaking to local news agency RIA Novosti, Medinsky claimed the Ministry had nothing to do with the changes and stated, “Everything is decided by the distributor. We do not cut anything, I don’t even understand what this is about.”
While it might be easy to assume that Russia is holding onto outdated political ideologies, Russian president Vladimir Putin is reportedly a big fan of Elton John. In 2014, the man even said, “Elton John is an outstanding person [and] outstanding musician. Millions of our people sincerely love him despite his orientation.” If Putin can put aside his bigotry to enjoy the man’s work, surely Rocketman can be released in the country unedited.
Elton John, Filmmakers Slam Russia’s Decision to Cut Sex Scenes From ‘Rocketman‘ [The Hollywood Reporter]