The musical biopic celebrating Elton John’s rise to stardom and personal struggles has finally arrived to cinemas. However, at a screening of Rocketman in Moscow on Thursday, audiences missed out on the intended experience of the film, which was meant to shown an uninhibited and flashy approach to the musician's early life.
Scenes including gay sex and kissing in Rocketman were removed by the Russian distributor, sparking this response from Elton John and the filmmakers:
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.
Five minutes of footage was reportedly removed from the movie for Russian audiences, due to the country’s laws banning "homosexual propaganda." According to Variety, the filmmakers and Elton John had not been made aware of the censorship until Russian journalists reported the cut following the Moscow screening.
Paramount Pictures also released a separate statement about Rocketman’s censorship:
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.
The studio supported Elton John’s words, expressing that the movie will be released uncut across the globe. There is however one caveat: the studio “must adhere” to local laws, and in some regions those include the censorship of gay content. Will Paramount then continue to release Rocketman in foreign territories that will cut these scenes? This seems to be the case, otherwise the studio would have to pull Rocketman from a few foreign markets.
Those involved in the musical have been vocal about the movie’s approach to truthfully depict Elton John’s life, showing his drug use and gay sex scenes. When John originally set out to have his life told, he went through studios unwilling to back an R-rated Elton John biopic. The musician recently said “I haven’t led a PG-13 rated life," so it never made sense to him for a movie about him to hold that rating.
Rumors previously swarmed about Paramount’s pushback to cut a gay scene from the flick as well, but director Dexter Fletcher shot those rumors down, assuring the film “has and always will be the no holds barred."
Bohemian Rhapsody recently dealt with a similar situation when it was released in China. Six sequences regarding Queen frontman Freddie Mercury’s sexual identity were censored from the film, and that movie was PG-13 to begin with. Chinese film advocates spoke out about the censorship, saying it really affected the intended message of the movie about Mercury finding himself.
Rocketman has been met with positive reviews by critics and is expected to open behind Godzilla: King of the Monsters this weekend at $25 million.