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A version of this story first appeared in the Jan. 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Many Hollywood films are trimmed or censored in more conservative regions of the world, so it nearly was a given that Martin Scorsese‘s The Wolf of Wall Street — a three-hour raunch-fest featuring sex, drugs and 569 variations of the F-word — would face plenty of heat (in the U.S., Scorsese had to make trims to secure an R rating, versus an NC-17).
Red Granite Pictures, the production and financing company that made the $100 million opus, knew going in that the Middle East and parts of Asia might not take too kindly to some of the film’s more decadent scenes. They were right.
Malaysia and Nepal have banned the film in recent days, while some scenes have been cut in the versions playing in India and Lebanon. And in Singapore, Wolf has been relegated to only a handful of theaters because of its ultra-restrictive rating.
“Some of the content in the film makes it difficult in certain territories where they have censorship and can even ban films,” says Christian Mercuri, president of international at Red Granite. “It certainly concerns us that anyone is cutting our film, but every territory is different.” By contrast, he notes, “If you have a highly violent movie, it’s not a problem in the U.S., Asia and the Middle East, but it is a problem in Europe.”
Wolf of Wall Street, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Wall Street bad boy Jordan Belfort, hasn’t yet rolled out in much of the world, so it remains to be seen where else there will be resistance. Wolf is doing big business overall in its early run, grossing $80 million domstically and nearly $40 million to date internationally, including north of $17 million in France. It’s also doing eye-popping business in Poland, Denmark, Finland and Sweden. Wolf makes a major push into continental Europe on Friday.
“You try to make a film for a worldwide audience. This is a spectacular movie, all three hours of it. It’s a shame that certain countries don’t allow art to be screened in its entirety,” Mercuri continues.
At the same time, Red Granite has been amenable to allowing some cuts in order for Wolf to gain access.
In India, three scenes were cut: a gay orgy, co-star Jonah Hill‘s public masturbation sequence and the opening scene of the film that features DiCaprio blowing cocaine into a woman’s derriere using a straw. Also, the expression “all nuns are lesbians” was blacked out because of a guideline stating that all religions should be respected (before getting a release, titles must be cleared by the government’s film regulatory board).
Singapore’s film agency slapped Wolf of Wall Street with a restrictive R21 rating, meaning only viewers over 21 can see it, and it can only screen in seven to nine cinemas in downtown Singapore (they aren’t porn theaters). Films rated R21 — past projects to earn the distinction include Harvey Milk biopic Milk — are banned from suburban multiplexes. Singapore authorities had said they were also cutting several scenes, including one featuring DiCaprio having sex with a flight attendant, but Red Granite’s Mercuri says he has no knowledge of those trims happening once the R21 was assigned.
Regardless of playing in such a limited run, Wolf came in No. 1 last weekend in Singapore, grossing north of $300,000.
For the time being, Wolf has been banned altogether in Malaysia and Nepal (ironically, Red Granite CEO Riza Aziz is the stepson of Malaysia’s prime minister). Sources within Malaysia’s government film office told THR that the distributor of the film realized upon screening it that it would face huge problems with the censorship board because of its profanity, nudity and sex.
Wolf also had been set for release in Nepal, but the censorship board there nixed those plans.
In the Middle East, Wolf won some ground late Tuesday in Lebanon, where the same scenes cut in India were set to be eliminated. However, the Lebanese distributor relented because of pressure from moviegoers and is only cutting the gay orgy scene, according to sources.
In United Arab Emirates, 45 minutes have been cut from Wolf. Earlier this week, the government-run National Media Center issued an unusual statement explaining that the regional distributor made the cuts, not the censorship authority.
Patrick Brzeski contributed to this report.
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