Europe

Elton John 'rejects' Russia censorship of Rocketman gay scenes

Executive producer Sir Elton John attends the Rocketman UK premiere at Odeon Luxe Leicester Square in London Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Sir Elton has previously criticised Russian President Vladimir Putin's "ridiculous" attitude to gay rights.

Sir Elton John has criticised a Russian film company's decision to cut gay sex scenes from his new biopic Rocketman.

The local film distributor told state news agency Tass it cut scenes from the film to comply with Russian laws.

The British singer and the makers of Rocketman issued a statement saying they rejected the censorship "in the strongest possible terms".

Sir Elton has previously spoken out against Russian laws banning "gay propaganda".

In a statement shared on his Twitter page late on Friday, he described the censorship of Rocketman as 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 statement said.

Another example of LGBT censorship

Analysis by Ben Hunte, BBC News, LGBT correspondent

We have seen all of this before. The same discussions were had around Bohemian Rhapsody, which was released last year. The film was accused of employing "straight washing" and "queer-erasure" for international marketability, as Rami Malek's Freddie Mercury portrayal was not out-and-proud about his sexuality.

It also happened with Disney's Beauty and the Beast, which almost had a gay moment removed for release in certain markets. Even Eurovision was dragged into the discussion last year, when a Chinese broadcaster censored LGBT elements of the competition.

LGBT censorship is happening all over the world.

Elton John has long been a gay icon and he is easily one of the world's most well-known activists. Ultimately, this is a film about his life, and people know who he is and what he stands for. Even with some of the most revealing gay scenes being removed from the movie, for many people, his story being told globally in biopic form will still be seen as groundbreaking.

Rocketman tells the story of the popular musician's rise to fame.

It includes a male sex scene and a photograph in the closing credits of Sir Elton, 72, and his real-life husband.

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Media captionRocketman is a musical film about Sir Elton John's career and how he broke into the industry

After watching the film during an early screening in Moscow, local journalists and critics reported that an estimated five minutes had been removed.

Film critic Anton Dolin wrote on Facebook (in Russian) that "all scenes with kissing, sex and oral sex between men have been cut out."

"The nastiest part is that the final caption has been removed from the finale," he added, referencing a tribute to Sir Elton's husband.

Another journalist who attended the screening, Misha Kozyrev, said scenes depicting drug use had also been removed.

A spokesman for local film distributor Central Partnership confirmed that it had altered the film, telling Tass it had done so to comply with Russian laws.

Olga Lyubimova, head of the Culture Ministry's cinema department, told the news agency that no specific demands had been put on the distributor to change the film.

"You know perfectly well that numerous Western and Russian films are related to the problem of drug use... it would be wrong to say that we are engaging in any form of censorship," she said.

However, she added that films are expected comply with Russian laws on "paedophilia, ethnic and religious hatred and pornography."

Speaking to the BBC in 2015, Sir Elton criticised Russian President Vladimir Putin's "ridiculous" attitude to gay rights.

He said he wanted to meet with Mr Putin to discuss the issue.

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Media captionSir Elton: I'll try to influence Putin's gay rights attitude

Rocketman is set to be released in cinemas across Russia on Thursday.

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