Rocketman, Bohemian Rhapsody, and the Implications of LGBTQ+ Censorship

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The producers of Rocketman, the upcoming biopic about Elton John, are under pressure to cut a 40 second shot of Elton John (Taron Egerton) with his lover and manager, John Reid (Richard Madden). A report from The Daily Mail, has said that within the film, the short 40 second scene, which consists of the two lovers naked, in bed together, is potentially at risk of being cut from the film in order for it to have the equivalent of a British 12A rating upon release, thus reaching a wider audience. Studio Paramount consider the scene to be ‘racy’, despite the fact that this innocent scene does not depict intercourse and only presents their bare bottoms.

It is clear that Paramount is eager for Rocketmanto be as successful and receive a similar reception as Bohemian Rhapsody, the 2018 Freddie Mercury biopic, which received $1bn in ticket sales as well as four Oscars. Rocketman’s director, Dextor Fletcher, who also directed Bohemian Rhapsodyfor the final three weeks after Bryan Singer was fired, has received a huge amount of criticism and negativity regarding the downplaying of Freddie Mercury’s sexuality. Fletcher has been accused of ‘straightwashing’ Freddie Mercury’s life and distorting reality by failing to include enough details and content regarding Mercury’s sexuality, relationships or personal life. Therefore, unfortunately, fans fear that the depiction of Elton John and his sexuality is also at risk of being ignored and downplayed. 

In addition to the disappointing lack of focus upon Mercury’s sexuality within Bohemian Rhapsody, in China, due to homophobic film policies, Bohemian Rhapsody and lead actor Rami Malek’s acceptance speech at the Oscars, have both been heavily censored. All scenes including gay kisses have been removed and dialogue in multiple scenes has also been muted; this includes the scene in which Freddie Mercury tells his bandmates that he is dying of AIDS, a pivotal and important part of both Freddie Mercury’s life as well as a key moment within the film. The Chinese version of the film has been said to be confusing to watch due to the jumps within the film as well as the obvious gaps in the storyline, further erasing the already distorted reality of Freddie Mercury. 

Rocketmandisplays John’s life by exploring aspects of his childhood, his time as a student at the Royal Academy of Music, his friendship with writing partner Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) as well as the journey to accepting his own sexuality. Rocketman producers, including Matthew Vaughn, have mentioned that the biopic will be a ‘grittier’ portrayal of John, as well as looking upon his sexuality and personal life in depth and detail. Elton John has said himself that the film should be as real to his life as possible, originally stating that the producers should “tell it all. Go as G-rated as you need to” as well as giving permission for them to show his ‘ugly side’. However, it is clear that these wishes are not being met, as producers and director, Dextor Fletcher, are holding back and putting boundaries between creating the film and telling John’s story, by even considering making this cut to the film. 

Elton John’s sexuality is not a secret; it is shocking that cutting the scene is being taken into consideration, as despite the fact that it is less than a minute, it still has the power to build up a complete picture of John and his life, as well as having the ability to display the normality and reality of his homosexuality. Regardless of the fact that his sexuality is well known, it is still an important part of his life and therefore should also be a vital, crucial part of Rocketman

It is tragic to see the dominant role that ticket sales and money have acquired over creating a film which aims to exhibit a real and accurate depiction of an iconic gay man. It demonstrates a lack of respect for both Elton John and his story, as well as LGBT+ people everywhere today, especially as it is clear that John himself does not want any limitations to his story. Nonetheless, the future of the 40 second shot is still unknown; a tweet from Fletcher has addressed rumours and speculation regarding the film, but claims it is still unfinished and “has and always will be the no holds barred, musical fantasy that Paramount and producers passionately support and believe in”. Rocketmanhas been scheduled for release on 24thMay, in which I hope to see Egerton and Madden in bed together for a short 40 seconds, not only for the sake of John’s story but in order to show a wide audience a simplistic, loving scene displaying everyday life between two men.

Image Courtesy of Paramount