Musician Elton John and producer David Furnish, right, arrive for the UK Film Premiere of Rocketman at the Odeon Luxe in London, Monday, May 20, 2019.

© AP Photo/Frank Augstein
 

Rocketman – the Elton John biopic – opened this weekend to generally great reviews, but cinema-goers in Russia were only getting to see part of the story.

According to the film’s Russian distributor, cuts were made to the blockbuster film to scenes depicting gay sex and men kissing, in order to comply with Russian law.

While shocking, it’s not terribly surprising that the homosexuality has been diluted from a film about one of the world’s most iconic gay men because of the Russian government’s desire to marginalize and demonize the LGBT community.

The Russian distributor, Central Partnership, told a Russian news agency it made the cuts to comply with Russian law, an apparent reference to the 2013 “gay propaganda” law, which bans the so-called “promotion of nontraditional sexual relations to minors.” A report by Human Rights Watch documents the impact this blatantly homophobic and discriminatory law has on LGBT children, who are vulnerable to attacks and discrimination in the face of tacit government support for homophobia.

Elton John – who is popular in Russia – condemned the deletions.

“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,” he said in a joint statement with the filmmakers on Friday. Scenes featuring drug use were also censored from the film in Russia.

The Russian Culture Ministry said it had played no role in the censorship. It’s likely the film distributor feared they would run afoul of authorities if they let it go out uncensored given the law has been used against a wide range of actors.

The anti-gay propaganda law is clearly to blame. The law insidiously invokes the protection of children as a pretext to remove LGBT people and identity, and the notion of equality, from public life. The cuts to Rocketman are all the more ludicrous given the film is rated 18+ in Russia and wouldn’t be seen by children anyway.

Russia is not alone in deleting queer identities from films. Egypt and China both cut gay scenes from “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a move that would have made Freddie Mercury turn over in his grave.

The cuts to Rocketman fuel the idea that homosexuality is somehow wrong and will only serve to increase the hostility LGBT people, especially children, face going about their daily lives.