Sir Elton John has criticised Russian censors for cutting gay sex scenes from the hit musical biopic Rocketman.
The critically acclaimed film charts the British singer’s rise to fame, and its scenes of kissing and sex between men, as well as drug use, contributed to it earning a 15 certificate in the UK.
But in a bid to play down the sexuality of Sir Elton, played by actor Taron Egerton, for a conservative Russian audience, an estimated five minutes of footage was reportedly removed ahead of its debut in Moscow.
The Moscow Times quoted a Russian film critic who had seen the film at its world premiere in Cannes on 16 May as saying “all scenes with kissing, sex and oral sex between men have been cut”, as well as a photo displayed during the end credits featuring Sir Elton and his husband David Furnish.
Sir Elton, 72, a prominent gay rights campaigner, released a joint statement with the makers of the film to accuse censors of being “cruelly unaccepting of the love between two people”.
“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,” they said.
“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.”
Amnesty International called for Russia to restore all deleted scenes in Rocketman, saying the censorship was “ridiculous” and “insulting for LGBTI people”.
“This mutilated version of the film insults and dehumanises same-sex relationships,” the organisation said.
Rocketman opened strongly at the UK box office and could perform well in Russia, where Sir Elton remains a popular star despite his objections to the passing of an “anti-gay propaganda” law in 2013.
In 2015, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he would be willing to meet with the singer, but they did not see each other when the latter played a concert in Moscow the following year.