Russian cinema goers denounce 'censorship' of Elton John biopic

Moscow (AFP) –


Russian cinema goers denounced the "censorship" of Elton John biopic "Rocketman" after watching the film's edited Russia version with all scenes of gay sex removed.

The British singer has slammed the Russian cutting of the musical biopic of his life as "cruelly unaccepting" and international rights groups have condemned the move.

The local distributor said it amended the film to comply with Russian law after film critics who saw a preview of it noticed scenes featuring men kissing and gay sex were missing.

Some scenes with drug taking were also removed.

Russia has a dire record on LGBT rights and a controversial law bans the promotion of "non-traditional sexual relationships" to minors.

Muscovites who hoped to watch the original uncut version of the film at an independent cinema in the Russian capital were left disappointed, with the cinema only able to obtain the cut version.

It held two screenings of the film in English with Russian subtitles on Saturday evening, several days before it is due for a general release in Russia.

- 'Rights infringement' -

Maria Erenko, a 31-year-old university worker who attended the screening, told AFP she was "not surprised" the cinema was unable to show the unedited version.

"I don't think Russian society is not ready to see gay scenes on the big screen, I think the authorities think it's not, so they try to regulate it," she said.

Another cinema goer, 28-year-old Alexander Ilyin who works in intellectual property, also criticised the cutting of the film.

"It changes the perception of the viewer and the value of the film goes down a lot as a result," he said, calling the decision "censorship."

Ilyin said he "is aware" that many Russians have hostile attitudes to LGBTI people but added that showing the full version of the film could have been a "way to move forward."

"I think these people are just like us and need to have the same rights as we do. Cutting these scenes is an infringement on their rights," he said.

Film critic Anton Dolin, who was first to report the edits, wrote on his Facebook page that the text that ends the film was also changed, to say only that Elton John founded an NGO to fight AIDS.

But in the original, viewers learn that he eventually found love and is raising two children with his same-sex partner.

Russian Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky told state agency RIA Novosti that his ministry has nothing to do with the edits and that "everything is decided by the distributor."

"We do not cut anything," he was quoted as saying.

Other films that included gay scenes, including the recent biopic about British rock star Freddie Mercury "Bohemian Rhapsody", were shown in Russian cinemas. In China, multiple gay scenes of the film were cut.

Elton John is popular in Russia, where he first performed during the Soviet era in 1979 but he has been a vocal critic of the country's anti-gay laws.

Tatiana Fedotova, an anthropology professor at a Moscow university who watched the film on Saturday, told AFP she "can live with" the distributor's edits.

"I can't say how much of the film was lost," she said, having not seen the full original version.

"But I think we need to quickly make peace with Elton John," she said.