Malaysia under fire over cuts to gay scenes in Elton John's 'Rocketman'

by Beh Lih Yi | @BehLihYi | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 1 August 2019 08:44 GMT

Elton John and his husband David Furnish attend the UK premiere of the Elton John biopic 'Rocketman' in London, Britain, May 20, 2019. REUTERS/Simon Dawson

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Sodomy is a crime punishable by up to 20 years imprisonment in Malaysia, a Muslim-majority country of 32 million

By Beh Lih Yi

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 1 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Malaysia has censored gay sex scenes in "Rocketman", the movie musical based on the life of British singer Elton John, sparking condemnation from art critics on Thursday that the country was becoming a "nanny state".

Film buffs in the Southeast Asian country also took to social media to post criticism of the cuts, which included scenes depicting gay sex and men kissing, after "Rocketman" was released in Malaysian cinemas last week.

"We do not allow any scenes that promote LGBTQ in films that are for public viewing," Safaruddin Mohammad Ali, who heads Malaysia's Film Censorship Board's films unit, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

"Although it is about the real life of Elton John, it is not for him to allow the public to see whatever he does or whatever activities he indulges in that is not our culture."

Sodomy is a crime punishable by up to 20 years imprisonment in Malaysia, a Muslim-majority country of 32 million which is also home to a large number of other religious minorities.

Safaruddin and the film's local distributor, United International Pictures, refused to disclose how many scenes were cut, and the latter said it "respects" the government's rules.

"Rocketman", starring actor Taron Egerton, tracks John's first steps in the music business, from his piano playing as a child to his explosion onto the U.S. scene and its drug and alcohol-fuelled party world.

It has received a rating restricting it to viewers who are 18 years old and above in Malaysia.

"We don't need a nanny state," said Malaysian TV personality and art critic Sharaad Kuttan, who has watched "Rocketman".

"Governments today cannot control the representation of the LGBT community and individuals - they are fighting a losing battle," he said, referring to the popularity of streaming TV platforms such as Netflix.

In June, 72-year-old John condemned Russia for censoring gay sex and drug scenes in "Rocketman", while Samoa banned the film over its depiction of homosexuality.

Malaysia's film censors have in the past blocked movies deemed religiously insensitive while the 2017 release of Walt Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" was held up over a "gay moment" in the film. (Reporting by Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi; Editing by Michael Taylor. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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