In recent years, films discussing LGBTQ issues have cemented their role in the entertainment industry with the likes of Call Me By Your Name and Boy Erased. These films, like many others, have finally given a platform for the stories and struggles of queer individuals, which is unprecedented in mainstream media.
Although long overdue, queer cinema is finally getting the audience its deserves. That is, of course, if the films aren’t banned or censored. Bohemian Rhapsody, the film that showcases the rise of the legendary band Queen and lead singer Freddie Mercury, suffered an extreme cut of over four minutes of LGBTQ scenes when it premiered in China in March.
But the most recent victim of queer censorship is Elton John’s biopic Rocketman, which has been banned entirely on the island of Samoa for its scenes depicting homosexuality.
Apollo Cinemas, Samoa’s only cinema in the capital of Apia, had initially listed screenings for Rocketman. Matters took a turn on Friday 7 when the cinema said on Facebook that the film would be removed due to “censorship issues.”
Leiataua Niuapu Leiataualesa, Samoa’s principal censor, told the ABC that the decision made was in line with the country’s Film Control Act of 1978, which bans films that are an offence to religion, amongst other reasons. "We're concerned with the cultural values and also the Christian beliefs here in Samoa — it's not appropriate for public viewing," he said.
Samoa doesn’t always ban films entirely because of homosexual scenes, however. Bohemian Rhapsody was allowed screenings in Samoa, only after being heavily censored. According to the cinema’s technical specialist, Rocketman didn’t receive the same treatment as it had a lot more homosexual content than the Queen biopic.
But it is questionable whether screening a censored version of the film would have been any better. Elton has been an advocate for the LGBTQ community for many years, and it is a significant part of his identity. Erasing queerness from the film entirely would be doing a gross injustice.
“They wanted to tone down the sex and drugs. But I haven’t led a PG-13 life,” Elton has said about the filmmakers. Showing a more palatable, tame version of the movie would in effect be misrepresenting the artist’s crazy life and how he got to where he is.
Rocketman’s ban in Samoa caused much controversy among local rights activists, who say the move was hypocritical considering the fact that transgender women are widely accepted in Samoan society.
Fa’afafines, children born male but raised as girls in their families, are accepted in Samoa, and even hold roles of leadership in local villages, government and the private sector, the Guardian reports.
Tuisina Ymania Brown, co-secretary general of the International LGBTI Association, told the Guardian that “You cannot censor what is open, fa’afafines are a celebrated part of our community. This is a selective morality issue.”
Samoa’s ban comes after Elton John openly criticised Russia for deleting over five minutes of homosexual content from local film screenings of Rocketman last week. Elton hasn’t commented on the banning of the film in Samoa yet, however.