Elton John, Filmmakers Slam Russia's Decision to Cut Sex Scenes From 'Rocketman'

Paramount Pictures
'Rocketman'

"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."

The Russian distributors of Elton John biopic Rocketman have cut scenes depicting gay sex and drug taking, according to local film critics.

At a Moscow preview of the movie, which is due to be released Thursday across Russia, up to five minutes of content had been cut and the closing credits amended to drop references to the children the British rock singer is raising with his partner, David Furnish.

Anton Dolin, one of Russia's best-known film critics, said in a Facebook post that "all scenes with kissing and sex between men were cut out." He added that an on onscreen statement at the end of the film had also been changed. In the original, seen by hundreds of international critics and industry professionals at its Cannes premiere on May 16, viewers learn that John found love and is raising two children with Furnish.

On Friday, John and the filmmakers slammed the decision to "pander" and cut parts of the film in Russia. 

"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," John and the filmmakers said in a statement. "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."

Rocketman, which chronicles the pop icon's early struggles with his sexuality, drugs and alcohol, had also lost scenes showing drug taking, says critic Misha Kozyrev.

"For the Russian release, Rocketman was censored," Dolin wrote. "It applied to the dubbed and subtitled versions alike. All scenes of kissing and sex between men were cut out." In the Russian language version, the statement merely records that John founded an non-governmental organization to fight AIDS, Dolin said.

Local distributor Central Partnership told the news agency TASS that Rocketman had been amended to comply with Russian laws, though it gave no further details. Critics point out that while Russia has strict anti-gay laws that make it illegal to promote "non-traditional sexual relationships" to minors, the film carries an 18 rating.

Paramount released its own statement Friday about the Russian version of the biopic: "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."

Russia's conservative culture minister Vladimir Medinsky denied state interference in the film. The ministry had nothing to do with the edits and "everything is decided by the distributor," he told the state news agency RIA Novosti.

"We do not cut anything, I don't even understand what this is about," Medinsky said.

John, who has long been a vocal advocate of gay rights, has a strong following in Russia and has frequently toured in the country since first playing there in 1979.

The British-born singer, who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1998, has even earned praise from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who in 2014 said, "Elton John is an outstanding person [and] outstanding musician. Millions of our people sincerely love him despite his orientation."