Elton John has lashed back at the decision by a Russian distributor to remove intimate same-sex scenes from the domestic release of Rocketman, a new biographical film based on the life of the British rock star.
“We reject in the strongest possible terms the decision to pander to local laws and censor Rocketman for the Russian market,” the 72-year-old John and the filmmakers, Rocket Pictures, said in a statement on May 31.
The statement added that Paramount Pictures, which financed the film, has “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,” it added.
The local distributor has not commented, but in 2013, Russia adopted a controversial law banning the dissemination of “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” to minors.
According to state-run RIA Novosti news agency, Russian Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky denied that his ministry or the government was involved in any action related to the film, saying, “Everything is decided by the distributor.”
In an e-mail statement to RFE/RL on May 31, Paramount did not comment directly on the process involved, but said that “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.”
Dozhd TV journalist Mikhail Kozyrev and cinema critic Anton Dolin, who presented the film at the Oktyabr movie theater in Moscow on May 30, said scenes with drugs, gay sex, and kissing men had been removed from the release being presented across Russia by the Central Partnership film distribution and production company.
Critic Yegor Moskvitin, who saw the original movie in Cannes earlier this month, confirmed that gay scenes and a statement in the titles about Elton John’s “true love” had been cut from the Russian release.
Last month, another Hollywood movie — Avengers. Endgame — was slightly changed in Russia. The Russian translators altered the dialogue to conceal that one of the characters was gay.
The law banning dissemination of “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” to minors sparked criticism by domestic and international rights defenders.
John, who has held concerts in the country — most recently in 2016 — has spoken out publicly against the law. He requested a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin during his 2016 visit to the country to discuss the matter.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov at the time said Putin was ready to get together for a chat but later said that “their schedules did not match up” and no meeting was held.
With reporting by RFE/RL’s Todd Prince in Washington, Dozhd, RIA Novosti, and Reuters