Taron Egerton, Elton John Slam Russia for Censoring Gay Sex in “Rocketman”

An estimated five minutes of footage has been removed.

Rocketman’s creative team has denounced reported censorship of the movie’s queer content in Russia.

Described as “an epic musical fantasy about the incredible human story of Elton John’s breakthrough years,” the new biopic spotlights the relationship between the iconic singer (Taron Egerton) and his first manager, John Reid (Richard Madden), who was also his lover.

Following a Rocketman screening Thursday in Moscow, Russian film critic Anton Dolin wrote on Facebook that censored content included “all scenes with kissing, sex and oral sex between men,” as well as some scenes including drug use, The Guardian reports. An estimated five minutes had been cut from the movie.

A photograph of John and his husband, David Furnish, was also reportedly removed from the end credits, along with a caption about their relationship and two sons.

These cuts were confirmed by Russian film critic Yegor Moskvitin, who had also seen Rocketman at the Cannes Film Festival, the Moscow Times reports.

“I am crestfallen that the decision was made to censor our movie for the Russian market,” Egerton posted on Instagram. “I’m even more disappointed to hear about it second-hand today on the day of our domestic release. I in no way condone this decision and feel disappointed I wasn’t made aware and given the chance to fight this move. Love is love. No compromises.”

John and other Rocketman producers released a joint statement Friday condemning the censorship: “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.”

“LGBTQ content is edited from films and television shows all too often when they are distributed in countries where anti-LGBTQ laws and policies are the norm,” GLAAD wrote in a statement. “Today’s bold and powerful statement from Elton John and Rocketman filmmakers should inspire other creators and producers to follow suit if future projects are edited. The homophobic decision to edit content from Rocketman underscores the power that LGBTQ images in entertainment have around growing LGBTQ acceptance.”

The Russian government has drawn harsh international criticism for the country’s so-called “gay propaganda” law. President Vladimir Putin introduced the controversial legislation in 2013, prohibiting the promotion of “nontraditional relationships” to minors. The law is also used to suppress public discussion of LGBTQ rights, displays of Pride symbols, or affection between members of the same sex.

Russian censors famously considered banning Beauty and the Beast in 2017 because of a gay character but ultimately released it with a 16+ rating.

“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,” a Paramount spokesperson tells EW in response to Rocketman’s censorship. “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.”

According to Moscow Times, Russia’s Culture Ministry claims it did not order the scenes to be removed, and that the decision was made solely by Central Partnership, official film distributor of Paramount films in Russia. “Indeed, changes were made to the film to comply with the legislation of the Russian Federation,” a Central Partnership representative confirmed.

Paramount Pictures

“Well, the stuff we shot was pretty explicit,” Egerton recently told British GQ of Rocketman’s sex scenes. “Those scenes are desperately important when you have an icon of that magnitude, who means so much to one community. [John] has been such a standard bearer. And for me, especially as a heterosexual actor, not to push the envelope as far as I can or try to make it a wholehearted celebration of being a gay man would be wrong.”

“It’s a studio movie,” he continued. “It’s Elton John. We’ve got to own that. I don’t care how well the film does in Russia. It doesn’t matter. It can’t matter. What’s an extra $25 million at the box office? What are you willing to do for that? Sacrifice sleeping at night because you watered the whole thing down?”

Director Dexter Fletcher shut down “rumors” of a gay sex scene between Egerton and Madden being softened to obtain a PG-13 rating from the MPAA instead of R. He tweeted that the film “has and always will be the no holds barred, musical fantasy that Paramount and producers passionately support and believe in.”

“Some studios wanted to tone down the sex and drugs so the film would get a PG-13 rating,” John wrote in The Guardian. “But I just haven’t led a PG-13 rated life.”

“I filmed my first sex scene for this film and it’s with quite a well-known man,” Egerton told MTV in November. “I do feel the movie we shot is absolutely a celebration of everything that Elton John is and part of that is his sexuality.”

“I actually think the gay community will be quite surprised by quite how gay it feels,” he continued. “I loved every second if it.”

Egerton did all his own singing for Rocketman, which also stars Jamie Bell as Bernie Taupin, John’s longtime writing partner, and Bryce Dallas Howard as John’s mother.

Rocketman is in theaters now.

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